Faced with funding cuts from the state, Lawrence city officials looked at their own budget and made the only logical move: Pass as many of the cuts as possible on to someone else.
On one level you can’t really blame them. The budget proposed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius passed the buck to the city, most notably by simply withholding revenue from the state’s special tax on liquor sales even though that revenue had been promised to local governments by state statute. If the state can pass its budget pain along to the city, why shouldn’t the city just pass it on down the line?
The city proposed some cuts to its own staff and operations, then passed the rest of the budget pain along to others. All of the social service agencies that receive money from the city’s Special Alcohol Fund would have their funding cut in half. The city’s plan also would cancel funding for its school crossing guard program. The city manager said he hoped the Lawrence school district could pick up the $50,000 cost to keep that program going.
What makes the city manager think the school district will have an extra $50,000 lying around? The city’s plan is based on the Sebelius budget, but there is no chance that will be the final budget approved by state legislators, who already are proposing far deeper cuts in K-12 education funding.
Some of the other cuts proposed by the city raise questions, especially the closure of parks and recreation facilities. The plan floated last week called for the elimination of most weekend hours at the city’s recreation centers and a reduction of hours for the city’s swimming pools. Money to operate the South Park wading pool and to support summer concerts by the City Band also would be eliminated.
This would mean that facilities that Lawrence taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to build, remodel and maintain would be shut down to save on staffing costs. Some creative use of volunteers might help this situation and the city always can hope that private donors will pick up the slack for social service agencies and perhaps the band concerts.
There still seems to be reason to wonder, however, about the city’s priorities. According to a report that Lawrence city commissioners will consider tonight, the cuts suggested by the city staff reflected an effort to protect “core city services,” namely public safety and infrastructure. Supporting such basic services is an appropriate priority, but are there other nonessential areas that could be cut? Is this the best time, for instance, to consider adopting another Sister City?
As noted above, the city’s proposals are based on the governor’s recommended budget, and many changes will occur to that budget before it clears the Kansas Legislature and heads back to the governor’s desk. Unfortunately, all indications are that legislators will approve cuts that go even deeper than those proposed by Sebelius.
The budgeting buck eventually will stop with taxpayers who will either have to live with service cuts or increased tax bills. Now is the time to let officials know if you approve of the direction in which they are heading.