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Archive for Monday, April 13, 2009

Chestnut to take shot at shaping city budget

Finance professional is in line to move into mayor’s seat on Tuesday

Lawrence will get a new mayor on Tuesday. Mike Dever will end his one-year term and city commissioners will choose another member from their ranks to take over the city's top spot.

April 13, 2009

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City Commissioner Rob Chestnut stretches shortly before a game of basketball at the Community Building, 11th and Vermont streets, on Saturday. On Tuesday, fellow commissioners are expected to select Chestnut as the next mayor of Lawrence. Chestnut, the chief financial officer for Allen Press, hopes to prioritize the city’s spending in this tough economic time.

City Commissioner Rob Chestnut stretches shortly before a game of basketball at the Community Building, 11th and Vermont streets, on Saturday. On Tuesday, fellow commissioners are expected to select Chestnut as the next mayor of Lawrence. Chestnut, the chief financial officer for Allen Press, hopes to prioritize the city’s spending in this tough economic time.

City Commissioner Rob Chestnut takes a shot over Ron Gaches in a pickup game at the Community Building, 11th and Vermont streets.

City Commissioner Rob Chestnut takes a shot over Ron Gaches in a pickup game at the Community Building, 11th and Vermont streets.

Rob Chestnut makes his living by examining finances, which made it all the more concerning that when he joined the Lawrence City Commission two years ago, he often got an uncomfortable feeling when he looked at the city’s spending.

“I felt like we had bought a house that had a mortgage that was a little bit more than we could afford,” Chestnut said.

On Tuesday, Chestnut will get his chance to be the leader of the household, so to speak.

Chestnut’s fellow commissioners at their weekly meeting are expected to select Chestnut — the chief financial officer at Lawrence-based Allen Press — to serve a one-year term as mayor.

When Chestnut, 47, joined the commission in 2007, the previous commission had just finished up a year during which it spent $3.3 million more than it received in property and sales taxes. Chestnut believes the commission the last two years has done a good job of keeping spending balanced with revenues.

But now, the commission will face a new challenge. As the area real estate market struggles, declining property values are expected to result in a decrease in city property tax revenues. The decline in assessed valuation will be the first in recent memory, if it materializes.

That’s why Chestnut said he doesn’t plan to begin his term as mayor with any proclamations about new projects or initiatives he hopes to accomplish. Instead, he said he wants to work on garnering agreement on how the city should spend the money it does have.

“The first thing we have to do is get some consensus about what we consider to be our priorities,” Chestnut said.

Levels of service

Chestnut said he’ll lobby for protecting core services such as police, fire, sanitation, water, sewer and public works. But already, concern is mounting among social service agencies about possible cuts in city funding.

One of the two new commissioners elected in last Tuesday’s elections, Aron Cromwell, has said he’ll fight cuts to social service funding.

It may be a debate in the making because Chestnut said he’s worried that cuts in state funding to the city will necessitate reductions in social service funding. Even if the state cuts don’t come, Chestnut has expressed concern about the past growth rates of social service funding.

“A significant level of social service funding growth came when we were doing deficit spending,” Chestnut said.

Chestnut said he wants to avoid dipping into the city’s fund balances — the city’s version of a savings account — to craft the 2010 budget. But he said he couldn’t entirely rule out such a scenario. He also said he couldn’t say for certain that he wouldn’t support a “minimal” increase in the city’s property tax rate to make the budget work.

“I want to start the discussion, though, by saying we’re going to live within our means,” Chestnut said.

Other concerns

On other issues, Chestnut said:

• He wants the city to increase its efforts to help the Lawrence Community Shelter find a new location to serve the homeless. The special operating permit for the shelter, currently located downtown, only has one more year left before it either expires or would need to be renewed.

• He expects money from a trio of new sales taxes to start producing tangible results in improving the city’s transit system and the city’s roads, sidewalks and infrastructure.

• He hopes the city can come closer to a resolution on purchasing the vacant Farmland Industries property on the east edge of town and converting it into a business park. He said he still thinks the city purchasing the property is the most viable option for getting the site cleaned up and back to use.

“There’s going to be a lot to do next year,” Chestnut said.

But in addition to the daily issues, Chestnut said he’ll work to keep the city focused on some longer-term issues — such as honing the city’s economic development strategy.

“It is going to be a balancing act,” Chestnut said. “I think a lot of businesses and a lot of households are dealing with the same issue. They look at things a lot on a day-to-day basis, but they also have to remember that economic times will change. They will get better, and we need to make sure we’re planning for that, too.”

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Comments

cowboy 5 years, 8 months ago

What are you waiting for Chestnut , get to work , don't be shy , start cutting. Priorities you have stated regarding Farmland , by the way the majority of residents are just fine with it sitting there , don't waste our money on someone else's folly. Move the shelter , move it to Denver , KC , St. Louis. The influence of the bums in DTL has soured much of the population on going downtown

plainspeaking 5 years, 8 months ago

This is an unusually confusing article. In Lawrence's form of city government, the Mayor's job is honorary, and the City Manager and his staff are supposed to manage the budget process. If presumed Mayor Chestnut wants to take a greater role in crafting city budgets, perhaps he should apply for a job with the city.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 8 months ago

Here's some advice. Dump the emp-T. Then reduce the government take by 20%. Then reduce sales taxes.

scott3460 5 years, 8 months ago

"Chestnut said he’ll lobby for protecting core services such as police, fire, sanitation, water, sewer and public works."

Why? In my experience these are among the more bloated, and least productive aspects of Lawrence government employees. Why should they get a pass? Get the firemen out working public works for some portion of their day. Get the cops out of their cruisers idling at speed traps and walking some neighborhood streets.

Clickker 5 years, 8 months ago

Chestnut always had a sweet jumper.....defense...notsomuch.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 8 months ago

Can we stop the "T" talk already. Voters passed it easily, it's not going away.

And lower sales tax? What planet do you live on.

And I went to that Price Chopper. They about ran a credit check to get a shopper card. And your still going to spend and extra $20 or so from Checkers.

George Lippencott 5 years, 8 months ago

I am very pleased to note that at least one of our lawgivers believes that we should go back and examine our tax expenditures to determine if there may not be some aspects that are of lower priority. I am disturbed that the response from some of our citizens is to demand that some portion of the budget be held sacrosanct. That is particular troubling when that element of our budget has seen the greatest growth.

I cannot help but wonder who is demanding that protection. Are these folks truly concerned about the less fortunate or are they protecting their own rice bowl? No mater how many resources we direct toward social services there will still be a need. There are those who would argue that the more we spend for such services the greater the demand.

We would like to keep some of our earnings. My family’s income is being impacted by a myriad of increases in non-discretionary spending. Why should those receiving social services be protected from those realities. Who is demanding that we pay more? Do they pay comparably or are they just jealous of those who worked harder and achieved more?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

" I am disturbed that the response from some of our citizens is to demand that some portion of the budget be held sacrosanct. "

Chestnut himself has identified "sancrosanct" portions of the budget. Are you talking about him, George?

George Lippencott 5 years, 8 months ago

All of those who hold something like money as non-negotiable

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

Mayor Chestnut is the one who always says we must take risks with our tax dollars and has said this multiple times. Why?

The commisson is always ready to risk our tax dollars on projects they have no idea as to whether or not projects will pay back the payers.

More citizens perhaps should tune in the city commission meetings on Tuesday Channel 25 in order to become educated as to how commissioners are seemingly reckless spenders in spite of their political rhetoric.

Taxpayers never ask questions about the amount of tax dollars being poured into the Clinton Lake Regional Park project. Yet this project was left off the survey as to how the park department should spend the budget money. And the city commission wants to increase user fees on many popular other park uses while Clinton Lake Regional Park moves forward eating away at the 1% sales tax that could be spent more fiscally responsible than on a 1,505 acre extravagant park project.

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