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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Budget talk

Too often, local government units pass their budgets with almost no comment from taxpayers. Not this year.

August 11, 2007

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Apparently, when the going gets tough on the city budget, Lawrence residents get going - down to City Hall to make themselves heard.

Lawrence city commissioners faced some tough decisions Tuesday night, but they didn't face them alone. Whatever else came out of Tuesday's budget hearing, it says something positive about Lawrence that so many people cared enough to come to the meeting and voice their opinions about city spending.

The mayor grew a bit impatient with some residents who came to the meeting to oppose the Wal-Mart project later on the agenda, but the comments on the budget were orderly and allowed residents to state their case even if, at that point, their thoughts had little impact on the commission's decisions.

Those who spoke in support of the T, got their wish, when commissioners found the funding to maintain the bus service's current schedule rather than forcing cutbacks. Despite this temporary victory, however, community support for the T seems to be waning, and the city needs to look at some new strategies - especially the possibility of working with Kansas University to try to provide a more efficient and less costly service.

Other speakers probably were disappointed. It was unfortunate, for instance, that commissioners couldn't find funding to support the WRAP program that puts social workers into public schools. Commissioners no doubt were influenced by indications that the school district also would decline to fund the program. It is hoped that other funding will be found to keep WRAP running, but it's difficult to understand why a program with such a positive track record has such a difficult time establishing an ongoing funding source.

In response to public reaction to the proposed budget, commissioners also agreed on a smaller increase in swimming pool admission fees for children, who now will pay $3 each instead of the $4 that was initially proposed.

Interestingly, everyone who spoke during Tuesday's budget hearing wanted to urge commissioners to spend more money; no one spoke on behalf of less spending or lower taxes. The 0.425-mill increase approved by commissioners apparently wasn't enough to raise taxpayers' ire. According to at least some commissioners, it also isn't enough to meet all of the city's needs, notably the need to rebuild and repair city streets and infrastructure.

That issue is scheduled to come back in the form of a commission discussion later this month of a possible half-percent sales tax to bolster the city's budget. With the small mill-levy increase and rising fees for various city services, it will be interesting to see how far the commission can push the sales-tax envelope before taxpayers rebel.

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