In all the recent talk about the relative merits of raising Lawrence's property tax levy or adding to the city's sales tax rate, the idea of cutting the city's costs to meet its existing revenues isn't getting much attention.
Occasionally, a city commissioner will call for additional review of city departments to try to trim expenditures, but the primary strategy for dealing with the current budget shortfalls always seems to return to taxes: a half-percent sales tax, an additional 1-mill property tax, perhaps an impact fee on new development.
While it's unlikely that there will be more than one city tax increase floated this year, and the increase will be relatively small, commissioners are missing the basic sentiment of average Lawrence residents that taxes are high enough and the city - like everyone else - should have to figure out a way to live within its means. That probably will involve putting a heavy focus on essential services like street maintenance and public safety and forgoing some amenities.
During this year's City Commission election campaign there was a lot of talk both about fiscal responsibility and the need to attract more jobs to Lawrence. Bringing more business and jobs to Lawrence is a great way to build the city's tax base, but until that happens, the city needs to control the tax burden it places on Lawrence residents. Many people who work in Lawrence already are choosing to live in other nearby towns where the cost of living isn't as high.
Reductions in city funding to social service agencies has triggered a considerable outcry in the community. Although there is little chance the city would make drastic cuts in that funding, is it better to protect that funding while raising the sales tax that these agencies' clients have to pay on everything they purchase, even food? Is it possible that local individuals and businesses would be more willing and able to donate funds to these service agencies if their tax bills were lower?
The city's property tax mill levy has declined by about 1.5 mills in the last three years. Maybe those reductions were a mistake that commissioners now must correct, but before they decide to raise any additional taxes they should take a hard, out-of-the-box look at how the city is spending its money - the hard-earned money it annually takes out of taxpayers' pockets.