Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tax vote divides city, county, school leaders

February 12, 2008


Commissioners caution school board in raising taxes

If voters decide to raise taxes on April 1 to generate money for Lawrence schools, the school board plans on using the money on student instruction and support services. Enlarge video

Reader poll
Lawrence schools may ask voters to OK a half-mill tax increase to raise $650,000 to give employees a 1.5% pay increase, less than the 3% inflation rate. Without the money, raises could be less than 1%. Would you vote for the tax increase?

or See the results without voting


Maybe this is what it will sound like at local dinner tables as families decide whether to vote for a proposed tax increase to improve teacher salaries at Lawrence public schools.

At a joint meeting Monday of city and county commissioners and school board members, leaders were split on the merits of an April 1 school district election asking voters to approve an approximately half-mill property tax increase.

"What I'm asking for is some fiscal conservatism here," City Commissioner Mike Dever said. "I want to make sure that we have a budget that is commensurate with the size of our community because right now we aren't a growing community."

Dever, like the rest of the city and county commissioners who were briefed on the upcoming ballot issue, stopped short of endorsing or opposing the school district proposal. But he wasn't alone in questioning whether a tax increase was in the best interest of the community.

"A tax increase probably would be extremely hard on the folks in this community," said City Commissioner Mike Amyx.

County Commissioner Jere McElhaney said the school district's proposal should spark a community conversation about what is realistic in today's tight economy.

"This is the easiest conversation we can have. We all can say we need more money," McElhaney said. "We need to have a discussion about expectations. There's always an expectation level, but what we have to know now is what is the reasonable level."

Supt. Randy Weseman, though, said the proposed increase in the district's local option budget is one of the few ways the school district has to provide employees a cost-of-living increase. He estimated that with the LOB increase, the district may be in a position to offer up to a 1.5 percent increase to the district's 1,300 employees. That's less than the nearly 3 percent inflation rate that the district estimates for the area. Without the increase, teachers would be facing a less than 1 percent increase, which the teacher's union may not settle for.

"I kind of feel like we're against the wall on this," Weseman said.

The 1 percent increase in the local option budget would generate about $650,000 for the district. The district also is expected to receive $2.5 million in additional funding from the state, but only about $900,000 of it can be used for salaries. The remainder is earmarked by the Legislature for special education and other specific purposes.

Some elected leaders said they understood the challenges the district was facing, especially as it continues to compete with Johnson County districts to attract teachers.

"It has been one of our philosophies that you have to pay people a fair wage," County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "A 1.5 percent increase when cost of living is at least 3 percent is not very fair."

The joint meeting did not spark a serious discussion about including the school district in any future sales tax efforts by the city. Both Mayor Sue Hack and Amyx - two of the strongest proponents of a new sales tax for streets and infrastructure - reiterated that the April school election has likely killed any chance of a city sales tax election.

Instead, they both said the city will face a 2009 budget that either increases property taxes or cuts city services such as public transportation.

"We're facing some horrendously difficult decisions," Hack said.

Dever, who is expected to become the city's next mayor, also sent warning that the city may be asking its employees to do without a cost-of-living increase in 2009.

"Whether we can afford cost-of-living increases at the city level is to be determined, but it seems pretty doubtful," Dever said.


skinny 10 years ago

We are tired of paying more and more taxes every year. It is time to STOP raising the Taxes. This is just plan crazy. I am voting NO! Make do with what you have. I have too!

salad 10 years ago

Q.) "How much do the school administrators make? " A.) This is public information, you can call the district office and request a list of all administrators and their salaries. If they refuse, threaten to sue. The J-W should do this, but that would require actual journalism and work. Administrators in Johnson Co. average over $80,000 each, Lawrence is probably close to that.

Q.) "How many of them are there?" A.) Too many. Far too many.

deskboy04 10 years ago

How much do the school administrators make? How many of them are there?

toefungus 10 years ago

Are we going to have to go to war against government spending? Enough is enough, and the school district is the worst of all. "For the kiddies" is turning into a bum rush for economic ruin. Gee, to think we put a man on the moon with people that went to one room schools.

salad 10 years ago

" Gee, to think we put a man on the moon with people that went to one room schools."

...and state universities!

deskboy04 10 years ago

The LJW published the list of school administrators and their salaries a few years back, but it made too many people mad. I don't think that they do it anymore.

LogicMan 10 years ago

School Board: Please repeat after me ...


Higher Taxes = Deeper and Longer Recession.

All: Vote no in April on this terribly timed proposal.

Richard Heckler 10 years ago

If all are tired of raising taxes how in the world can one support the developers desire to do whatever they damn well please. And when they over build, which creates economic displacement , that which is counterproductive to economic growth so many taxpayers shout screw me again please anytime you wish. Build build build and take my tax dollars to your bank account. Developers don't necessarily do it themselves...their hired city/county/planning commissioners merely pave the way each time they say yes. It will probably happen again tonight.

Developers create a host of tax dollar projects for US tax payers to pay for and maintain such as:

*Increases in the Cost of Community Services = Increase in Cost of Living = Increase in taxes and fees.

*New neighborhoods for the real estate/development industry create a demand for community services such as:

  • Additonal city staffing and equipment
  • New sewage treatment plant
  • water and sewer lines
  • streets and repairs houses public schools
  • fire stations
  • law enforcement manpower *sidewalks
  • snow removal
  • bike trails and cross walks
  • Traffic signals
  • Traffic calming
  • Strip Malls
  • Expensive Flood Control

*In general increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers whether existing taxpayers support growth that does not pay for itself or not. Let's bring on Impact Fees to cover the cost of all the above.

Each time commissioners say yes it is likely to taking more tax dollars from you. Some of them and developers laugh all of the way to the bank.

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