Proposal may ease city cuts

Agencies would get 4 percent less with Chestnut's plan

Proposed city budget cuts to social service agencies may not go as deep as originally planned.

Under a new proposal from Lawrence City Commissioner Rob Chestnut, two dozen agencies such as The Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence would face 4 percent cuts in city funding instead of 6 percent.

“We’re really talking about $50,000 to $75,000 as the difference between what I’m recommending and what the city is recommending,” Chestnut said Friday.

Chestnut’s proposal came as welcome news to Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society. As the organization that receives the largest amount of city funding, the humane society expected to receive $267,000 in 2007. Under city staff’s proposal to cut 6 percent, it would have lost $16,020.

“It’s better for us,” Grinstead said. “When you’re talking about $16,000, that’s a lot of money to overcome. That’s a staff member. That’s repairs or maintenance or buying a year’s worth of Clorox or litter.”

With Chestnut’s plan to reduce funding by 4 percent, the humane society would lose about $10,700 this year, $5,000 less than feared.

Chestnut brought his idea forward after analyzing the proposed budget cuts and realizing most city departments faced 4 percent reductions.

“So, I thought it was really fair, then, to say that’s really also what we ought to be asking the outside agencies to come up with,” he said.

In addition, Chestnut suggests that the city hire a full-time auditor in the fall. Commissioners budgeted the new position to come on earlier this year, but to save money, staff recommended waiting until 2008 to fill it.

“I think it’s a pretty essential position for us and will pay for itself very quickly,” Chestnut said. “The quicker we get him on board, the more we can start looking more in-depth at a lot of things that are happening inside the city.”

Commissioner Boog Highberger had recently expressed concerns about cutting funds for the social service agencies and said he finds Chestnut’s proposal more reasonable than the 6 percent cuts.

“I’d still like to go over the agencies on a case-by-case basis. There are some I’d like to not cut at all, but I think this is a step in the right direction,” Highberger said.

Highberger said he wants to avoid cutting programs that “provide a social safety net,” such as Health Care Access Clinic and the WRAP program, run through Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

“I just don’t feel good about going back on commitments for these outside agencies,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Amyx said he supports the staff recommendation to cut social service agency funding by the full 6 percent but will consider Chestnut’s proposal for smaller cuts.

“I want to make sure the proposal is fair and that we have covered our basic city services, like police, fire and public works,” Amyx said.

The city is considering budget cuts because sales tax revenue could fall as much as $1.5 million below staff projections this year and commissioners don’t want to raise property taxes or dip into fund balances.

The City Commission will consider Chestnut’s proposal at its weekly meeting, which begins at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.