What the future of public transit will look like in Lawrence is still up in the air after city commissioners met this morning to discuss the troubled 2008 city budget.
Same goes for what future property tax bills will look like in the city.
Commissioners were split on several key items, including whether they could support City Manager David Corliss' recommendation of a 1-mill property tax increase.
On the issue of public transit, commissioners were split on whether to cut the hours of the T, the city's bus system, from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mayor Sue Hack and Boog Highberger said now, with rising fuel costs, was the wrong time to cut hours. Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he could support the cut in service hours for 2008, but would lobby hard for the T to consolidate with Kansas University's bus systems for 2009.
To avoid a cut in service hours, an approximately 0.7-mill increase will be needed, Corliss said. Even with the cut in service, an approximately 0.4-mill levy increase will be needed. Corliss did provide commissioners with an option that would not require a mill levy increase, but that require cuts in hours, cuts in routes and longer wait times for riders. Commissioners said they were not interested in that option.
Commissioners also were split on whether city employee should be given an across-the-board 2-percent wage increase. That would require a 0.3 mill levy increase. Chestnut and Commissioner Mike Dever said they did not think a property tax rate increase was appropriate at this time. Hack and Highberger both said they thought the wage increase was necessary for the city to keep good employees.
Commissioner Mike Amyx said he was supportive of the wage increase, but he stopped short of endorsing an increase in property taxes. Instead, Amyx brought up his proposal to create a new sales tax.
Amyx is proposing a half-cent sales tax for five years that would be used for street and sidewalk maintenance. The commission then could use some of $5.3 million it currently spends on street maintenance for other city needs.
Other commissioners said they had some interest in the idea, but thought it was too late to help the 2008 budget. The sales tax would have to be approved by city voters.