Archive for Sunday, October 26, 2008

What would a sales tax increase go to?

Infrastructure projects planned

October 26, 2008


On the street

Do you support the infrastructure sales tax increase?

I support it. I live in east Lawrence and don’t have a car, so I bike a lot. It would be nice to have the streets repaved and to have the Burroughs Creek trail as well.

More responses

Election 2008

In-depth coverage of the candidates and the issues, all leading up to the Aug. 5 primary and the Nov. 4 general election.

Voters will go to the polls Nov. 4 to decide whether to create a new three-tenths of a percent citywide sales tax to fund a variety of infrastructure projects.

The infrastructure sales tax is listed as Question No. 1 on the ballot.

Here's a look at several of the issues and questions surrounding the vote:

Q: How much will this cost me? How much will the city make off this?

A: Three-tenths of a percent equates to 30 cents for every $100 worth of taxable purchases people make in the city limits. The tax - which wouldn't kick in until April 1 - will generate an estimated $2,255,900 for the city in 2009. In 2010, its first full year of existence, it is estimated to generate $3,945,000.

Q: Who has to pay this sales tax?

A: Anybody who buys taxable merchandise in the city limits. The city is estimating that 30 percent of the revenue will be generated by people who don't live in the city but come to the city to spend money.

Q: Will this sales tax ever go away?

A: The ballot language specifically says the sales tax will sunset - in other words, expire - after 10 years. The only way the tax will continue beyond 10 years is if city commissioners decide to put it on the ballot again and voters approve it again. Commissioners can't decide to extend it on their own.

This sales tax is unlike a countywide sales tax that voters approved in 1994. Contrary to what some folks are saying these days, that sales tax proposal never had a sunset provision.

Q: How's the city going to spend this money?

A: In several ways.

The largest amount of the tax collections over 10 years would be devoted to reconstructing various city streets. The most recent scenario from the city indicates that over 10 years, the city would spend about $22 million to rebuild parts of four major streets - Bob Billings Parkway, Kasold Drive, 19th Street and Wakarusa Drive.

Another $5 million would be used to build a stormwater pump station at Fifth and Maple streets in North Lawrence.

In addition, the city says it will spend $500,000 a year on residential street maintenance and sidewalks - particularly in older areas of town - and $500,000 a year to purchase new fire trucks. The city also has proposed using $350,000 to cover its share of the proposed Burroughs Creek Rail Trail in East Lawrence.

Q: Has the city settled on the street projects that it will undertake if this is passed?

A: Sort of. The accompanying graphic shows more details on the four major streets that the city says are the "most likely" to be rebuilt. But the sales tax language is not written in such a way that it commits the city to doing those specific projects. And since the work is expected to take place over a 10-year period, future commissioners ultimately will decide what road projects to spend the money on.

Q: Is there anything that stops the city from spending this money on any type of project?

A: Yes. The wording of the ballot language does limit the type of projects the city can use the sales tax money for. Specifically, the ballot language says it must be spent on "maintaining public streets and sidewalks," for a stormwater pump station in North Lawrence, "recreational path infrastructure" and for "purchasing fire apparatus." But the ballot language does not get into the specific locations of projects, other than saying the pump station is in North Lawrence.

Unlike the 1994 sales tax, this tax does not include a clause allowing the money to be spent on any general governmental purpose. So, for example, the city won't be able to use this sales tax to build new recreation centers, hire new police officers or any of those other general expenditures that sales tax money has been used for in the past.

To ensure that is the case, the city has proposed creating an audit committee made up of Lawrence residents to review how the sales tax money is spent.

Q: Will any of this money be used to build new roundabouts?

A: No, said City Manager David Corliss. None of the sales tax money will be used to build new streets. It will only be used to rebuild existing streets or maintain existing streets.

Q: What is the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail?

A: It would be a 10-foot-wide, concrete trail open to use by both pedestrians and bicyclists. It would run from Hobbs Park near 11th and Oregon streets to 23rd Street, where it would connect with an existing hike and bike trail at Haskell Indian Nations University. The new trail's route would follow the abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad line, which is just west of Haskell Avenue. The city has received a $500,000 state transportation grant to help pay for that project. The city must come up with about $350,000 in matching funds in order to accept the grant.

Q: I thought my property taxes were being used to fix streets?

A: They have been. The city in 2009 will spend at least $4.2 million on street maintenance regardless of whether the sales tax passes. City commissioners, though, have argued they need more money because city streets are in poor condition. A ranking of city streets by the city's engineers estimated that 35 percent of all city streets need to be rebuilt. Improved street maintenance also was the issue that rose to the top of the list of concerns in the city's 2007 Citizen Survey.

Q: How did the city's streets get in such condition?

A: City leaders have conceded that many of the major streets in the city previously were built on substandard bases, in part because the city didn't have the funds to build the streets to a higher standard, Corliss said. The city has adopted new engineering standards that require roads to be built on a more solid base in the future.

Beyond that issue, however, arguments can be had about whether the city historically has spent enough on street maintenance. Several times, commissioners have reduced their street maintenance budget as a way to prevent increasing property taxes or cutting other services. For example, as part of the 2007 budget, the previous city commission did not accept a recommendation by city staff to include an additional $700,000 in the budget for street maintenance. That was, in part, because commissioners could not figure out how to do so without raising property taxes. Also in 2004, the commission reduced the city's street maintenance budget by about $200,000 as a way to avoid a property tax increase.

Q: Will this sales tax fix the city's street problem once and for all?

A: No guarantees there. The city has conceded that even with the sales tax, it will not have enough money to address all the streets that need to be rebuilt in the next 10 years. In other words, it won't address the entire 35 percent of streets that need to be rebuilt. But city leaders do believe this money will go a long way in stopping additional streets from deteriorating to the point that they need to be rebuilt, and will address a "significant" amount of the 35 percent that are in an unacceptable condition.

Q: I don't understand why the city doesn't have enough money to take care of these needs without a sales tax. Haven't property taxes been going up?

A: In general, property taxes have been going up. There's lots of statistics about mill levies and assessed valuations that we could throw at you here, but instead we'll do this: In 1998, the city property tax bill for a $100,000 home was $259 for the year. In 2008 - if that same home rose in value at the average rate of Douglas County homes - the city property taxes will be $574. The city's property tax rate has increased from 22.596 mills in 1998 to 26.688 mills for 2008. But the city has collected significant amounts of new tax dollars as the result of many homes increasing by 60 to 80 percent in value during the last 10 years. City leaders also note that the cost to maintain streets has gone up dramatically as oil prices have increased. And Corliss said that while the city has undertaken cost-cutting measures, there has been no community consensus on what city services should receive major reductions or be eliminated.


KsTwister 9 years, 7 months ago

"NO". Squandered taxpayer dollars does not mean you get a another to do it again. Since when is recreational trails considered a part of the street maintenance budget? The minute a major purchase of land for speculation is made should have every taxpayer in Lawrence protesting at the door of City Hall because budget---they cannot. Taxpayers deserve guarantees; 35% of the budget is also the amount the 'T' uses,hmmm...failed to see it listed in this article.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 7 months ago

" the city has proposed creating an audit committee made up of Lawrence residents to review how the sales tax money is spent."Will city commissioners acknowledge this committee and respect the committee or is this a smoke and screen?

Nikki May 9 years, 7 months ago

I want to know, and I've asked before and don't remember the answer, why is Kasold listed as a street that needs to be fixed desperately? They JUST finished Kasold. I don't drive down Wakarusa much, but it seems fine too. I just don't get it.

SMe 9 years, 7 months ago

"In 1998, the city property tax bill for a $100,000 home was $259 for the year. In 2008 - if that same home rose in value at the average rate of Douglas County homes - the city property taxes will be $574."That quote says it all. They're getting over twice as much now, 2008, as then, 1998, but still don't have enough!Stop their waste NOW! And while we're at it we need to get a new "they."

yankeevet 9 years, 7 months ago

I purchased a house a few years ago; the worth of the house has went down; so i still have no equity; but if the prices of houses are going down; how come the property tax is not going down?

justthefacts 9 years, 7 months ago

No.As much as I understand that a first class city has decent roads and mass transit, and as much as I think Lawrence should provide both to its citizens, I do not believe that raising taxes is the only way to get those tings. And I do not believe that citizens in Lawrence are so well off they can afford one more tax/thing.Earth to city leaders - cut the budget and find the money for these things somewhere else. Suggestions for where to cut? No more round abouts. As nice as they may be, a stop sign will work OK for awhile longer.No more downtown sculpture. Sell what you already own and add that money to the road pot.City lawyers. We have a city manager who is a lawyer. He can do the job. If more help is needed, hire it by the hour. Or get the Leauge of Municipalities to answer legal questions for us. We pay dues don't we?And speaking of dues. Does the city really need to belong to the Chamber? Won't they play with us if we don't? HA!Trips for city employees. You need to learn something new? Go to KU. It's closer. You want to network? Have people come here.No more fancy anything for awhile.The rest of us have to cut back to survive. The city will have to do the same.

Mandie Eutsler 9 years, 7 months ago

so if the tax increase doesn't go through, are they going to raise property tax? they need to pad the budget somehow, i have a hard time thinking they will decrease spending. i just really don't get it.

coneflower 9 years, 7 months ago

There is something nearly everyone is missing. Almost all the people riding the bus are going to work or going to spend money somewhere - in stores, at the doctor's, in restaurants and theaters. When they spend money, it generates income tax and sales tax revenue, and it stimulates commerce within the city - NOT in Kansas City or in Bentonville, Arkansas. Cut the bus, and you'll cut income and businesses' revenue and the state's income tax revenue and the city's sales tax revenue. The discussion has been very short-sighted to overlook this.

coneflower 9 years, 7 months ago

The city commission does not share my priorities. Their subsidizing extravagant development projects and attempting to shut down public transportation make me more interested than ever in working hard in the next election to assure a changing of the guard.

budwhysir 9 years, 7 months ago

There is no way in Gods green earth (yes its his, even if this is not politicaly correct) Our City is paying an out of state company 56,000 of our hard earned tax money to pay take pictures of buildings to track how buildings change. According to them this is some type of law to keep records of buildings. Are we crazy???? Paying this type of money for pictures while we run around empty busses all day long and they increase tax revenues to pay for them... Why doesnt the city get into the car rental business? This way we could carpool and save on gas prices.

Jeff Mitchell 9 years, 7 months ago

No! No! No! The only reason Lawrence needs this tax is because our current taxes are subsidizing the developers. Too much money is going to build infrastructure required by new development, and the expenses are far greater than the return in taxes. Not more taxes until the developers start paying their own way.

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