Pothole repair will increase in 2011. The city’s property tax rate will not, under a recommended budget from City Manager David Corliss.
Corliss released a 2011 recommended budget that holds the city’s mill levy steady at 26.7 mills, but holds out the possibility of increases in water, sewer and trash rates.
The budget continues a trend of the city’s mill levy holding virtually steady or going down slightly since 2003, but Corliss used Thursday’s release to remind the community that can’t go on forever.
“We either need to grow our tax base, grow our economy, or else an increase in the mill levy will be on the horizon,” Corliss said.
In the meantime, potholes will be a major focus of the 2011 budget. Corliss is recommending $164,000 to purchase a “spray injection patcher” that will allow crews to patch potholes in colder weather.
Currently crews don’t have the ability to make permanent patches during the cooler parts of the spring and fall.
Corliss also is recommending that employees in several departments such as parks and recreation and utilities be trained to patch potholes so that they can be called upon during the busy spring pothole season.
“We need surge capabilities to get at this community need,” Corliss said.
Here’s a look at other parts of the proposed budget, which will be voted on by city commissioners in early August:
Corliss recommends a steady mill levy for the city, but total tax bills in the community may go up. The Lawrence school board has begun discussing a possible 5 mill property tax increase, and Douglas County also is expected to face a tight budget.
But Corliss said he was able to recommend against increasing the property tax levy, in part, because home values in Lawrence did not fall anywhere near as much as once projected. New numbers from the county appraiser estimate the city’s property tax base shrunk only by 0.09 percent. At one point, there were fears the tax base may shrink by 5 percent or more.
Corliss’ budget, though, does count on sales tax collections rebounding. Corliss is projecting 2011 sales tax collections to grow by 2 percent over 2010 totals. That would mark a reversal of a recent trend of declining sales tax totals.
The recommended budget calls for 10 city positions to be taken off the payroll in 2011. But none of the positions are currently filled, meaning there will be no need for layoffs. Five of the jobs are in the city’s solid waste division, two are in parks and recreation, two in public works and one in information technology.
Corliss is recommending that city employees be eligible for raises. He said he’s budgeting for about a 1.25 percent increase in the merit pool for city employees, although that number could change depending on negotiations with the city’s police and fire unions.
Health care costs for the city are expected to go up by about 10 percent, with 5 percent of the increase being passed along to employees in the form of higher premiums.
Corliss’ budget is left open-ended on many city fees. City commissioners will be asked to decide whether to increase water and sewer fees by 2 percent to 6 percent, or to delay several water and sewer upgrades.
Rates for trash service are more likely to increase. The operator of the area landfill has proposed a 27 percent increase in tipping fees. City staff members are recommending a 7.5 percent increase in trash rates.
The budget recommends funding for several large street projects, including: rebuilding Iowa from Yale to Bob Billings Parkway; repaving and widening parts of Sixth Street from Massachusetts to Iowa and Monterey to Folks; rebuilding Kasold from Clinton Parkway to 31st Street; and about $3 million worth of unspecified infrastructure improvements related to Farmland Industries property. The budget also includes about $970,000 to buy a new quint fire engine.
The Farmland project, along with the projected opening of the biosciences incubator facility on Kansas University’s West Campus, has Corliss recommending a boost in the amount of money the city spends on marketing economic development efforts.
Corliss is recommending that the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s budget increase by $34,000 for marketing purposes.
Corliss said he’s not recommending any money be spent in 2011 towards constructing a west Lawrence recreation center, which had been discussed for city-owned land near Sixth and Wakarusa. Corliss also said he can’t recommend that the city start a new sidewalk maintenance fee that would give the city more funds to improve sidewalks throughout the community.
“I think they’re both good ideas, but we just don’t have the funds for it,” Corliss said.