It's time to talk money.
When it comes to building a $30 million library, Lawrence city commissioners were told Wednesday that they'll have to soon make some decisions about how much - if at all - they're willing to raise taxes.
"I'm not afraid of the library project," City Manager David Corliss said during a study session designed for commissioners to review their annual goals. "I'm afraid of the library project if we say we're going to have a flat mill levy because that means it will be cutting into our existing operating budget. And I don't know where we can absorb that type of cut in our budget."
Commissioners will have an opportunity to discuss the issue soon. Corliss told commissioners that he plans to place the issue on the commission's Feb. 6 agenda.
Corliss has estimated that it will take an increase of at least 4 mills in the city's property tax rate to fund the construction and the increased operational costs of a new library. A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in assessed value of property that a person owns.
Corliss, though, reminded commissioners that a sales tax of an undetermined amount also could be used to fund the construction and operational costs of a library.
Corliss presented commissioners with a list of capital improvement projects that the City Commission will want to consider in 2007: North Lawrence stormwater projects; increased funding for street maintenance; office space for a merged planning and development department; major equipment purchases such as new fire engines and public works machinery; funding for a recreational sports complex; and a city-owned service center off Wakarusa Drive that would provide additional space for the Police Department to store evidence and offices for the Public Works Department.
Commissioners stopped short of providing any definite direction, other than to reiterate that the public should decide the issue via an election.
"It ought to be up to the public, and the public ought to see what it will do to their property taxes," City Commissioner David Schauner said.
"I am reluctant to raise property taxes to the point that they would have to be raised to fund the construction and operation of a new library," City Commissioner Sue Hack said. "My concern is that I don't want to say that it has been nice to discuss it, but we can't afford it. I don't want this to grind to a halt by saying we can't afford it right now."
But Mayor Mike Amyx said that may be the truth of the matter.
"We can't have people wondering how they will pay for the taxes on their home or their business," Amyx said. "We have to understand there are limits."
The Lawrence Public Library Board has recommended that the city move forward on a $30-million library and below-ground parking garage at the site of the current post office at Seventh and Vermont streets.
The proposal was put forward by members of the Gene Fritzel Construction Co., who also wants to undertake about $100 million worth of private redevelopment along Vermont Street during a 10-year period.
A key part of the plan involves finding another downtown location for the post office.
In other discussion related to the commission's goals:
¢ Corliss told commissioners that he expects to have a senior transportation planner added to the city's Planning Department within the next couple of months. That position should allow the city to make plans for new road networks south of the Wakarusa River. Commissioners said the planning needs to take into strong account the development that is proposed for the De Soto, Gardner and southern Johnson County areas that could increase truck traffic.
¢ Corliss said his staff is working on plans to create an incentive program to get property owners to make needed sidewalk repairs. Incentives could include allowing property owners to finance the improvements via special assessments that would be placed on their individual property tax bills. But Corliss also said the city likely would have to create a campaign to educate property owners that it is their responsibility to maintain sidewalks on their property.
"It may involve some painful discussions with property owners," Corliss warned commissioners.