A city budget proposal that calls for a property tax increase of almost a mill is a reminder that the services and infrastructure local residents say they want come with a price tag attached.
Improving Lawrence streets is a key target of the budget proposed by interim City Manager David Corliss. To raise money to help save local streets that are not yet beyond repair, the Corliss budget would raise the city's annual street maintenance budget by $2 million next year for a total of $6 million.
In light of a recent report that indicated 30 percent of local streets are beyond repair and in need of rebuilding, that seems like a good priority to many Lawrence residents. But it will come at a cost. Corliss is proposing a 0.98-mill increase in the city's property tax levy, along with increases in city franchise fees that will raise the bills Lawrence residents pay for telephone, cable and electrical services.
The proposed mill levy is an increase of about 3.7 percent from 26.36 mills this year to 27.35 next year. However, with property values expected to rise in the city by 5 to 7 percent, local taxpayers can expect about a 10 percent increase in their property tax bills. The franchise fees will add 3 percent to residential phone bills, 1.75 percent to cable bills and 1 percent to electric bills.
Additional street funding also would be drawn from the city's 1-cent sales tax that has been largely dedicated to parks and recreation services. That will delay development of two new city parks at Peterson Road and North Iowa Street and near Kasold Drive and 31st Street. However, the budget includes funding to create a new park at Harvard Road and George Williams Way, plan for the Burroughs Creek trail project and make improvements at Clinton Park, Centennial Park and the road to Sesquicentennial Point, which seems like an adequate park investment for 2007.
It's worth noting that the city's mill levy has declined for the last three years, including a 1.5-mill reduction last year. As distasteful as it may be for some local taxpayers, perhaps this is the year to make an investment that will allow the city to start addressing the many street problems that have been identified. The city already is seeing the results of letting these projects slide from one budget year to the next, and the situation will only get worse if funds aren't dedicated to reverse the trend.