- LIVE BLOG: City Commission decides budget, Wal-Mart (08-07-07)
- City may reverse course on cuts to T (08-07-07)
- Higher water, sewage rates to increase revenue stream (08-07-07)
- City budget shortfall puts skate park addition on hold (08-01-07)
- T hours likely to be cut (07-25-07)
- Pool fee proposal revised (07-24-07)
- Developer seeks expansion into city parking lot (07-24-07)
No cuts to the T, but an increase for your property tax bill.
That's what a divided City Commission came up with Tuesday evening as it finalized the 2008 budget.
"I don't want to raise anyone's taxes - I really don't - but I don't know where we are going to get the funding unless we are willing to just start saying no to a lot of services that we are currently funding," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
Commissioners on Tuesday did not want to say no to the Lawrence Transit System. Commissioners agreed to raise the city's property tax levy by 0.425 mill to help pay for the T.
A majority of commissioners also agreed to pull $600,000 out of an equipment reserve fund and transfer it to the T's operating budget to eliminate the need to cut public transit service hours.
Two weeks ago, commissioners tentatively agreed to begin closing the T at 6 p.m. instead of the current closing time of 8 p.m. in an effort to save money. But after hearing large amounts of public comment against the reduction in hours, a majority of commissioners backed off.
Commissioner Rob Chestnut was the lone commissioner who continued to support the idea of closing the T at 6 p.m. He did not support moving the $600,000 out of the city's equipment reserve fund.
Other budget decisions made Tuesday:
¢ City employees will get a 2 percent pay increase.
¢ The city will not provide $250,000 for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's WRAP program, which works with Lawrence students to prevent violence. Commissioners said they support the program but were disappointed that the school district appears unlikely to fund it. Commissioner Boog Highberger was the lone commissioner to lobby for the city to fund the program despite the school district's lack of support.
¢ Swimming pool fees for children will climb to $3.
The issue surrounding the T's hours, however, drew the largest amount of public comment. Commissioners heard from a long line of T supporters who said it was the only way for many people to get to work and other needed services.
"Morally, we cannot balance our budget by taking away services from those who need it most," said Joe Douglas, a Lawrence resident and doctor who serves low-income patients at the Bert Nash Center.
A mill is a tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed valuation.
Technically, all five commissioners voted for the 2008 budget, but commissioners made it clear they were split on several issues such as pay increases for city employees and the T.
Amyx also said he was supporting the budget only on the condition that commissioners have a serious discussion about placing a new half-cent sales tax for streets and infrastructure issues on a future citywide ballot. Mayor Sue Hack promised him that commissioners would have the discussion, likely in late August.