Archive for Monday, July 16, 2007

Numbers still fuzzy on city budget

Disagreements remain on growth projections, tax and fee increases

In a sign of the city's fiscal woes, City Manager David Corliss turned down a raise in his salary as part of his annual evaluation in October 2006. Corliss is pictured in his office at that time. The current fiscal status isn't any better.

In a sign of the city's fiscal woes, City Manager David Corliss turned down a raise in his salary as part of his annual evaluation in October 2006. Corliss is pictured in his office at that time. The current fiscal status isn't any better.

July 16, 2007


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Plans to raise fees at Lawrence pools make a splash with parents and city leaders alike

A new proposal calls for a flat fee of $4.00 per person to visit a Lawrence city pool starting next year. Enlarge video

City commissioners have a major question to wrestle with as they work to create a budget for 2008: How big of a gamble do they want to take?

Commissioners didn't fully answer that question at Monday morning's budget study session, which left up in the air issues such as funding for the public transit system, swimming pool fee increases and the size of property tax bills.

The roll of the dice comes with how much money the city expects to receive in sales tax collections in 2008. City Manager David Corliss' recommended budget - which includes a 1-mill increase in the property tax rate - is based upon a 3.5 percent increase in sales tax collections.

That would be about 3.5 percent more than what sales tax collections are growing this year. Currently, sales tax collections are on pace to grow less than 1 percent in 2007. That fact made some commissioners nervous about being optimistic for 2008.

"We have to feel comfortable with our revenue projections, and I'm not sure that I am," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.

Different estimates

Adding to the concern is that county leaders are taking a different view of the economy in 2008. County Administrator Craig Weinaug built the county's recommended budget on a zero percent growth rate, although county commissioners on Monday directed him to increase his projection to a 1.75 percent growth rate.

Corliss said he and his staff thought that following a slow year of sales in 2007, there would be some pent-up demand in 2008. Corliss also said the 3.5 percent estimate was still less than the city's historical sales tax growth rate of 4 percent. The city also has never experienced two years of flat or negative sales tax growth.

But Corliss also conceded the projection wasn't solid.

"Our projection is the outer limit of what we're comfortable with," Corliss said. "Maybe we need to be more in the middle. We're hopeful the economy will pick back up."

An overly optimistic sales tax projection played a role in the City Commission's need to cut about $3.5 million from the 2007 budget earlier this summer. For 2007, the city projected sales tax revenues to grow at 4 percent, while the county was more conservative with a 2.5 percent projection.

Amyx said he thought the city should count on no more than a 2 percent increase. That would mean the city would need to cut another $300,000 from its proposed 2008 budget or increase taxes more than the proposed 1 mill.

Other commissioners expressed concern that the projection may be too optimistic, but stopped short of saying they wanted to redo the budget with a lower sales tax growth rate.

What's at stake

A majority of commissioners also stopped short of endorsing the full 1-mill property tax increase that Corliss has recommended as part of the budget. That left several key questions unanswered as commissioners head into the final weeks before a budget must be approved. Here's a look at several issues:

¢ Public transit. Mayor Sue Hack and Commissioner Boog Highberger came out strongly in favor of Corliss' recommendation to increase the mill levy by 0.7 mill to save the Lawrence Transit System from service cuts. But Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he supported an option that would move the T's closing time from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. Even with the reduction in service hours, that option still requires a 0.425 mill increase due to other rising costs.

Amyx and Commissioner Mike Dever didn't endorse either option Monday. Instead, Amyx said he wanted the city to consider passing a new half-cent sales tax for street maintenance, which could free money in the existing budget for public transit funding without requiring a mill levy increase. Dever said he wanted to study possibilities of changing and cutting routes before committing to an option.

¢ Employee pay raise. Hack and Highberger also strongly supported Corliss' recommendation for a 0.3 mill levy increase to provide city employees an across-the-board 2 percent salary increase. Chestnut and Dever both opposed the option because of tight financial times. Amyx said he wanted to find a way to increase employee pay but didn't say he could support a property tax increase to do it.

¢ Swimming pool fees. Both Dever and Chestnut said they were generally supportive of a recommended increase in swimming pool fees that would raise the children's rate from $1.75 to $4. Hack and Highberger said they wanted to look at a smaller increase for the children's rate. Amyx previously said he could support the increase but Monday said he was undecided.

¢ Water/sewer rates. One item that commissioners didn't disagree on was water and sewer rates. Corliss said staff members were now recommending a 5 percent increase in water rates and an 6 percent increase in sewer rates. Those increases are different than what was previously proposed.

Originally, the city had recommended a 4 percent increase in water rates and a 9 percent increase in sewer rates to help pay for a new sewer plant and an expansion to the Clinton Water Treatment Plant. In April, though, Corliss alerted commissioners that rates may have to increase significantly more because of higher construction costs.

Corliss said the city will be able to avoid the larger increases because it will finance the water and sewer plant projects for 25 years instead of 20 years as originally envisioned.

Commissioners are scheduled to take public comment on the budget at their 6:35 p.m. meeting July 24 at City Hall. Commissioners need to approve a budget at their Aug. 7 meeting.


KsTwister 10 years, 6 months ago

Your fired would make a better headline. This is a backfire waiting to happen, somewhere in Johnson and Shawnee counties their commissioners are smiling.

Homey 10 years, 6 months ago

Watch the flight to the unincorporated areas of the county continue.

usnsnp 10 years, 6 months ago

the city might save a lot of money by not building or upgrading the water plant. They could try and promote conservation of water and offer insentives to do so.

bill_priff 10 years, 6 months ago

Who writes the captions for the photos? Corliss "has been hailed by some for his proactive attitude." Who is doing the hailing? The article doesn't mention anyone. I wonder if he is really talking on the phone, or just trying to look proactive?

Sigmund 10 years, 6 months ago

Balance the current budget with current revenues. You want the empTy? Fine, cut somewhere else. Lets see, $1,400,000 to run empty buses that comes to 28 employees making $50,000 in salary and benefits. Or, raise the price of a ride to $2 and cut 10 employees. Better yet just raise the price equal to the cost of providing the service, $3.30 per ride, still a cheaper than a cab ride.

Or cut all city departments (except fire and police) by a percentage needed to meet current revenues. Finally, and this is a "radical" suggestion, try cutting tax rates. While this appears counter-intuitive, experience has shown that more often than not cutting tax rates actually leads to higher tax revenues.

There is often talk of what the Commission can do to attract employers to Lawrence. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more attractive to a business than a responsible city government that can balance its budget, doesn't have to constantly roll its deficit, and doesn't constantly threaten its citizens, year-after-year, with higher taxes. Given the City Commissions history and apparent lack of even basic education in Economics, I wouldn't invest a dollar of capital nor or hire a single employee in Lawrence unless I had no other choice.

jonas 10 years, 6 months ago

When they get fuzzy, it's time to take them out of the fridge and throw them away. Just letting them sit in there won't make them become okay.

/not sure if that's metaphorical or not.

//probably not

monkeyhawk 10 years, 6 months ago

I wonder how much of the budget would be freed up if the cc was not considering spending ?????? for the toxic waste dump?? Maybe they would be willing to disclose exactly how much they have rat holed for that project. Probably not, but don't we have a right to know. They are asking us to just trust their judgment?

If they feel that it is absolutely necessary to increase taxes for their lack of realistic visioning, I would be very comfortable if the sales tax rate was raised rather than sticking it to the unfortunate and helpless minority property owner. Since less than half of the residents of the city are owners (according to LJW), we are sick and tired of being forced to fund everything for everyone. Let the burden fall evenly.

Overpriced and disregarded studies, paid for with my money, attempting to determine how to get more of my money wins the prize for the most outrageous use of tax dollars.

A wage and hiring freeze should be in order. No more roundabouts, no spending on renting "art", no more money given to Bonnie Lowe to fleece us. No more talk about a new library. No more money for the chamber to do whatever they do with it - they certainly have not brought much to Lawrence in a while.

Time for the cc to figure out that they have a lot of competition for retail dollars just down turnpike. There are a lot of choices there, and guess how many Lawrence residents you can find there on a weekend. (And there are no libraries or museums there.) Someone has to figure out something substantial to attract some of those dollars here.

craigers 10 years, 6 months ago

Raising the mil and possibly sales taxes means less disposable income for Lawrence families to spend. Which means budget problems in the future too. Raising the mil and possibly sales taxes means less disposable income for Lawrence families to spend. Which means budget problems in the future too.
Raising the mil and possibly sales taxes means less disposable income for Lawrence families to spend. Which means budget problems in the future too. Raising the mil and possibly sales taxes means less disposable income for Lawrence families to spend. Which means budget problems in the future too. Are they starting to get it?

I know I didn't read about this before but changing the rates from 1.75 to 4 bucks? Are you kidding? Over a 100% increase? Try that at Eagle Bend and your golfers will start not showing up. An increase of .25 should be good and easier for the kids. If mom or dad gives them $5 then they can get some snacks too. An increase this large shows that they haven't done in budget planning for the pool for quite sometime. You don't say, oh we missed it last year, let's double our prices. The City Commission makes me sick to think that I will be paying even more taxes than I currently am which is insane.

WilburM 10 years, 6 months ago

The previous comment on swimming is right on. $2 would be fair. $4 is outrageous and callous, to say nothing of being truly stupid -- how much more police work because kids are getting into mischief, rather than having fun at the pool. Once more, penny wise, pound foolish.

Chestnut and Dever reportely for it. Ah, let's fund the Chamber, welcome Walmart and screw kids/families. There's a plan!!

toefungus 10 years, 6 months ago

Wow. Nice Office. Flat screen monitor, ergonomic keyboard, best downtown view. No wonder the City Manager wants to tax us more. Property valuations have exploded in the last few years. I pay more in taxes than I ever thougth I would on my home of 20 years. It is time for a taxpayer revolt. We should parade down Mass with all the other protestors. Instead of throwing candy, we could throw pennies as a sign the government takes our money and throws it away. We have it worse than the colonists did when they complained of taxation without representation. We have our fellow citizens taxing us to death. There is a growing gap between the value of the services we receive and the perception of that value by our government. I am not anti-government. But, I do oppose paying for services I do not want or need. Time to vote people and programs out. Time for our Commissioners to be good stewards, not good thieves. Let's get to work.

Kontum1972 10 years, 6 months ago

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Kontum1972 10 years, 6 months ago

was this a contract audit/finance team who came up with this deal...or was it at a bar around some kool ones......jeez... 4 bucks to swim what happens in the winter time...four bucks to swim can just see the response to that....look at it this way.....since we are in War....( at least thats what they keep repeating on the tube and in the administration)....if u were in iraq and these people were in charge and they were leading you...who would u consider to be the bigger threat?

Mr_B9 10 years, 6 months ago

Hmmmm, what are you all complaining about. The majority of Lawrence residents vote liberial and want to be progressive. So, in a nut shell you must pay the way.

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