Lawrence city commissioners felt good enough about the city’s financial condition Tuesday night to add $130,000 to this year’s budget to provide a boost to a year-end employee bonus program.
On a 4-1 vote, commissioners agreed to pay eligible city employees $48 per year for every year of service with the city. That’s the same amount the city has paid in past years, but commissioners had budgeted to pay only $24 per year this year because of the tight economy.
Commissioners, though, said city employees deserved the full bonus amount because they had worked hard to cut city expenses and were creating a new fiscal culture at City Hall.
“They are treating it like it is their money,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said of how city employees are scrutinizing city spending. “If that is the culture we’re starting to instill, I want to reward that.”
Commissioner Lance Johnson was the lone commissioner to vote against adding the money to the budget. He said city employees deserved the larger-than-budgeted bonuses, but he said he was not convinced the city’s finances were solid enough to make the extra payment.
The remaining commissioners expressed optimism that they would be able to add the $130,000 without causing the 2009 budget to become unbalanced.
That chore may become trickier as the final months of the year wind down. Already, the city is projecting that general fund revenue will be about $950,000 less than the city budgeted to collect. But the city staff has made enough cuts in spending to offset that loss of revenue, and create about a $100,000 cushion for the budget.
But just this week, staff members learned that October’s sales tax payment from the state came in about $100,000 less than the already lowered projections. Income from interest earnings also may be $50,000 to $80,000 less than projected. Corliss said he could not rule out that November and December sales tax collections also will be significantly less than projected.
Corliss, though, said he would be prepared to make more cuts to the budget — avoiding layoffs — if necessary. He said commissioners have made it clear that they do not want to dip into the city’s fund balance, which is the equivalent of a savings account.
In other business, commissioners:
• Were told that a significant economic development project may be coming the city’s way. In an unusual move, Corliss met with one to two commissioners at a time prior to the meeting to provide them a briefing on a subject. Corliss would not comment on those discussions, but he said during the meeting that an economic development project may be added to next week’s commission meeting.
• Approved conceptual plans to rebuild Kasold Drive between 31st Street and Clinton Parkway next summer. The plans call for the road to remain open to traffic during construction.
• Agreed to move forward with a $1.5 million addition at the Carnegie Library at Ninth and Vermont streets. The addition will allow the building to be used as offices for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Parks and Recreation Department.