There may not be much room for fun and games in the city’s 2010 budget.
A majority of commissioners on Monday expressed concern with a proposal by City Manager David Corliss to spend $300,000 next year to design a new recreation center for city land near Overland and Wakarusa drives.
Commissioners at a study session stopped short of killing the proposal, but four of the five commissioners did balk at the idea.
“I’m in favor of a new facility, but I just question the timing of it when we are having a hard time — maintenance-wise — taking care of the facilities we have,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell.
Commissioner Mike Amyx said he found it difficult to support the idea, especially when the city is eliminating the Human Relations division in an effort to save money. The elimination of the Human Relations division will result in two city employees being laid off, although their job responsibilities will transfer over to members of the city’s legal services department.
“It seems like this is coming at an expense of a department,” Amyx said.
Corliss said he did not view it that way. Instead, he said he made the proposal in an attempt to follow through on the intent of the countywide 1-cent sales tax that was passed by voters in 1994. That sales tax was envisioned, in part, to fund new recreation projects. The city will pay off the Indoor Aquatic Center in 2010, so Corliss said he thought it would be appropriate to begin planning for a new project.
Commissioner Lance Johnson was the lone commissioner to strongly support the idea.
“I think the city manager has it right,” Johnson said. “Sometimes in tough times, we have to remind ourselves that we have to keep looking forward. This would be a good community-building type of project.”
Commissioners are expected to make a final decision on whether to include the project in the budget at their July 28 meeting. That is when commissioners are expected to set a maximum amount of money they are willing to spend in 2010.
In other budget news, commissioners:
• Largely supported a proposal by Corliss to establish a new sidewalk maintenance fee that would show up on the utility bills of all Lawrence residents. The fee, as proposed, would amount to either a half-cent or 1 cent per foot of frontage that a property owner has along a city street. Currently property owners are required to maintain sidewalks on their property. The fee would shift the responsibility — minus snow removal — to the city. Property owners would be required to pay the fee regardless of whether they have a sidewalk on their property because the city believes everybody benefits from good sidewalks. Mayor Rob Chestnut said he wanted to have more discussion about that part of the proposal.
• Heard that the city’s Convention and Visitors Advisory Board has agreed to support a proposal to raise the city’s guest tax to 6 percent. The tax, which is a special sales tax charged to hotel and motel guests, currently is at 5 percent. The increase is expected to bring in at least $100,000 per year in new revenue. Corliss is proposing that $50,000 per year for 10 years be spent to renovate the former Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets. The building would house new offices for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and, perhaps, serve as the home office for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
• Expressed concern about a double-digit percentage increase in water rates for many users. Typical households that use between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons of water per month are expected to see their monthly water bills increase by 11 percent to 12 percent. But sewer rates are expected to remain virtually steady for 2010, meaning combined water and sewer bills will increase by about 4 percent for most users. That amounts to about $1 to $2 per month for most residential users.
But Mayor Rob Chestnut said he’s concerned the city may be on track to see 10 percent to 15 percent increases in water bills for years to come. He said he’s concerned that the size of the recent Clinton Water Treatment Plant expansion and other similar infrastructure projects have been greater than what the city’s population demands.
“I’m concerned about what our rates are going to look like in 2013 and 2014, if we aren’t having the type of population growth that we’ve expected,” Chestnut said. “We need to come to a consensus about what our growth numbers are going to look like.”