Commissioner concerned about cutting social service funding

City Commissioner Boog Highberger on Tuesday spoke out against proposed cuts to the 2007 budget, but his plea to lessen the severity of cuts to several Lawrence social service agencies failed to convince fellow city commissioners.

“I think the cuts for 2007 are going too deep,” Highberger said at city budget hearings. “My concern is that we’re looking at a $1.5 million shortfall in funding, but we’re making $3.5 million in budget adjustments.”

Highberger said he was particularly concerned that the city has ordered outside agencies that receive city funding – everything from The Salvation Army to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce – to cut their existing budgets by 6 percent.

But a majority of Highberger’s fellow commissioners said they weren’t inclined to back off the 2007 cuts, which are designed to trim about $3.5 million from the current budget.

“I want to try as hard as I can to stay the course,” City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said of the proposed budget cuts. “I said a lot during the campaign that we first need to see what we can do with what we have.”

Commissioners Mike Amyx and Mike Dever also said they weren’t inclined to back away from the 2007 budget cuts. Mayor Sue Hack was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Highberger also said he wasn’t opposed to reducing the 2007 budget, but he thought the city could afford to make smaller cuts by tapping into its fund balances – the equivalent of a savings account – more so than planned. Highberger said he was particularly concerned about funding cuts to social service agencies.

“With the economic times we’re in, the demand for many of these social service agencies will increase,” Highberger said.

The city is cutting the budget because sales tax revenues are expected to come in about $1 million to $1.5 million less than projected. The city expected sales tax revenues to grow by about 4 percent in 2007, but so far they are down about 1 percent compared with 2006.

The other $2 million to $2.5 million in cuts are being pursued because a majority of commissioners have said they don’t want to increase the city’s property tax rate or continue using fund balances.

Commissioners have been warned that by 2009 the fund balances largely will be depleted if they continue dipping into them.