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.