- Chat about the 2008 city budget with City Manager Dave Corliss (3:30 p.m. on Monday, July 9, 2007)
- City's budget outlook worsens (06-20-07)
- Tight budget puts squeeze on new city programs (06-20-07)
- Salestax gains favor among commissioners (06-14-07)
- Commissionersput big projects on back burner (06-13-07)
- Chatabout the T's future with Cliff Galante (submit a question)
- Blog:Lawrence City Commission discusses the T's future, budget cuts(06-12-07)
- Downtown'sfuture looking up
- Grantsup for commission's approval (06-11-07)
- Simons:City, county, school officials face tough funding choices(06-09-07)
Save the T. Spare the streets. Give city employees a raise. Write a bigger property tax check. And, oh yeah, pay more for swimming.
That's your 2008 recommended city budget in a nutshell.
City Manager David Corliss on Friday afternoon announced that he's recommending a 1.026-mill levy increase for 2008 to avoid significant cuts in city services, including cutbacks in the public transit system and reductions in street maintenance.
Corliss also recommends that fees for the city swimming pool be increased to a flat $4 per-person rate for everybody 5 years and older, which would more than double the rate for children.
City commissioners now must decide whether they will support the tax and fee increases.
"I don't make these recommendations lightly, and I'm sure the City Commission won't treat them lightly," Corliss said.
But Corliss said tax and fee increases are necessary to avoid significant service cuts. Corliss'
recommended budget would avoid many of the high-profile cuts.
The budget recommendation calls for:
l Status quo for the T, the city's public transit system.
¢ A 2 percent increase in pay for city employees. Corliss said surveys of other community's pay plans show Lawrence needs to increase salaries or risk losing experienced employees.
¢ A $100,000 increase in city spending on street maintenance. The recommended budget provides for $5.4 million in street maintenance. That is still far short of the $6.45 million that the city's public works leaders have said is needed to keep pace with the city's aging streets.
A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in taxable value in property that a person owns. The owner of a $200,000 home - 11.5 percent of which is taxable - would pay an additional $23 per year in city property taxes as the result of a 1-mill increase.
Friday afternoon, just minutes after the budget was publicly released, it was clear city commissioners would be divided on several issues.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he was extremely concerned about a 1-mill property tax increase. He said he wanted to find a way to give a pay raise to city employees, but he stopped short of endorsing a mill levy increase to avoid T cuts. Of the approximately 1-mill increase, 0.30 of a mill would be for a pay increase, while 0.7 of a mill would be for the T.
"I'll work to do whatever I can to reduce that," Amyx said of a mill levy increase. "I do want to protect our employees, and if that means we have to look at cutting programs, then that is what we'll have to do."
Amyx, though, said he did not have any qualms about raising the pool fees. The increase in fees is expected to generate a 38 percent increase in revenues - or an extra $130,000 - to pay for swimming pool operations. Corliss said he faced three choices: increase fees, cut pool hours or raise the property tax rate.
City Commissioner Boog Highberger was having a harder time swallowing the pool fee increase than he was the increase in the property tax rate. He said he could live with the property tax increase as long as it went to keep good city employees and avoid cuts to the T.
"I think it would put a lot of people out of work," Highberger said about reducing the hours the T operates. "There are people in this community who depend on the T."
Highberger, though, expressed concern that there would be many families who would not be able to use the swimming pool on a regular basis if fees increase.
Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he wanted to more closely examine the budget before deciding on the proposed mill levy increase. But he did say he supports the 2 percent pay increase for city employees. He also said he was fine with the pool fee increase, as long as it kept Lawrence's rates comparable to other communities.
Attempts to reach Mayor Sue Hack and Commissioner Mike Dever for comment were unsuccessful.
The budget, if approved, also is expected to create some tight times for area social service agencies that rely on city funding. Of the 24 agencies and organizations that receive money from the city's general fund - which range from the Boys and Girls Club to the Lawrence Arts Center - only one is receiving any increase in funding compared with the 2007 budget. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is receiving an additional $50,000 for economic development initiatives.
Corliss said that was appropriate because the city's largest challenge is adding new jobs and businesses to the community to increase the city's tax base.
"There is no lack of requests of what people want to do, whether it be new social services or downtown redevelopment, but there is a lack of a growing tax base," Corliss said.
Corliss highlighted a lack of business and industrial growth as he prepared last year's budget, as well. He said the city is struggling to get infrastructure - everything from sewer service to new industrial parks - in place to allow for the type of business growth that the city needs.
"I think our big flaw is that we're playing catch-up, and that is hard," Corliss said. "We don't have the infrastructure in place for some of our aspirations. We're doing lots of things, but it takes time. It is not a drive-through proposition."
In other news from the budget:
l Downtown Lawrence Inc., the nonprofit organization that markets downtown, may have to fight for its future city funding. Corliss included $47,000 in the recommended budget, but added a note that city commissioners may want to instead put the money in a city-controlled fund to market downtown rather than give it to Downtown Lawrence Inc.
¢ The budget does not accomplish the goal of balancing revenues and expenses. The general fund budget - the fund the city uses for day-to-day operations - will spend $1.39 million more than it is projected to take in via revenues. General fund spending is budgeted to increase by 5.9 percent, while revenues are projected to grow by 3.9 percent.
¢ The budget includes $250,000 in funding for Bert Nash's WRAP program, which works with troubled youth in Lawrence Schools. That's down from approximately $350,000 in past city budgets.
¢ The entire 2008 budget is based on an upturn in the economy. The budget projects sales tax revenues to grow by 3.5 percent in 2008. Currently, sales tax revenues in for this year are flat. Both Corliss and commissioners said sales tax revenues would have to be watched closely.
The budget also projects a 3.5 percent increase in property values compared with a traditional growth rate of 6 percent to 7 percent.
Commissioners need to approve a budget by early August. They are expected to review the budget during a study session the week of July 16.