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Archive for Tuesday, July 20, 2010

County commissioners ready to raise taxes

Newly chosen Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, left, shakes hands with outgoing commissioner Charles Jones during a reception at the Douglas County Courthouse in this 2009 photo. Douglas County commissioners signed off on a 9.12 percent increase on property tax for next year, lower than the projected 15.9 percent.

Newly chosen Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, left, shakes hands with outgoing commissioner Charles Jones during a reception at the Douglas County Courthouse in this 2009 photo. Douglas County commissioners signed off on a 9.12 percent increase on property tax for next year, lower than the projected 15.9 percent.

July 20, 2010

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Public input taken

Douglas County commissioners plan to listen to taxpayers — but not answer questions — regarding their draft county budget for 2011 during a special public input session set for 6:35 tonight at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.

Speakers will be asked to sign up upon arrival in the commission meeting room. Each will be asked to limit comments to 3 or 5 minutes, depending on how many people attend.

“We’ll just absorb it and keep it in our minds,” Commissioner Jim Flory said.

The input will help guide decisions about which programs, projects and other proposals to retain in the budget. Commissioners intend to start those discussions during a working session at 8 a.m. Monday, also at the courthouse.

Douglas County commissioners are resigned to increasing taxes on county residents and businesses for the coming year.

Just how much — and even which taxes — remains open for discussion.

During their latest budget hearings Monday morning, Nancy Thellman, commission chairwoman, reiterated her support for what she considers the most “ambitious” new programs included in the draft version of the county’s 2011 budget:

• $500,000 to finance heritage-related efforts, plus preservation of historic features and open space

• $500,000 for economic-development activities and projects, designed to create jobs and boost the Lawrence area’s competitiveness in luring new companies and expanding existing ones

Such dedicated spending has been lacking for far too long, Thellman said, especially as other areas build on their own historic heritage and set aside millions more dollars per year to entice employers.

“We can only go on charm and beauty and quality-of-life issues for so long,” Thellman said. “We have to invest.”

The county’s draft budget calls for supporting $69 million in spending and other financial moves by levying 38.033 mills in property taxes, which would be an increase of 15.9 percent.

The additional 5.23 mills — one mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed valuation — would cost the owner of a $150,000 home an additional $90.22 for next year.

Craig Weinaug, county administrator, said that more than half of the proposed increase — anywhere from 3.33 to 3.5 mills — would be required just to maintain the county’s current services and spending into the coming year.

That would mean keeping the same number of sheriff’s patrols, the same operations at the county jail, the same services at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and the same expenditure levels for road maintenance, elections and other needs that county residents and businesses have become accustomed to and rely upon.

Commissioner Jim Flory, who has been crunching budget numbers for more than a week in search of potential cuts, said he had tallied enough options to trim the mill levy increase nearly in half, to 2.69 mills.

But with the county facing declines in mortgage taxes and other revenues, he concedes that a property tax increase is no longer a matter of if, but how much.

“You have to have a little bit of an increase just to stay even,” Flory said.

His version of the budget would eliminate the additional $500,000 for open space and heritage activities, and trim spending for economic development. Flory said he would be against commissioners approving an “involuntary taking of dollars” for such efforts through the property tax.

Instead, he said, voters should be asked whether they would be willing to pay an additional 0.25 percent in sales taxes to finance such efforts — a surefire way to gauge public sentiment, even if the vote ends up being 51 percent to 49 percent, either way.

“The way you find out is an election,” Flory said. “Then you know where the community stands.”

Commissioner Mike Gaughan, for one, doubts such a sales tax could be used to finance many heritage projects, given the limited language included in a state law allowing the county to pursue additional sales taxes.

And Thellman, who has pushed for public investments in heritage preservation as a way to boost rural tourism, would prefer that commissioners support such efforts through property taxes.

“You take a stand and you stand for what you think is good for the community,” she said. “You see opportunities — even financial opportunities — that are missed unless you take that first step.”

Comments

jmadison 4 years, 5 months ago

Raising taxes in this economy for "government investments" = business and job killer by the county commission

beezee 4 years, 5 months ago

But Flory is also quoted as saying “You have to have a little bit of an increase just to stay even."

!*&!%!#! And just when do taxpayers, the ultimate source of all public money, get OUR increase??! Stay even??? A lot of county residents are not anywhere NEAR staying even!

This is just NOT the time for government to TAKE more from citizens.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Well, if property valuations decrease, then the mill would have to be increased just to maintain the same level of funding.

beezee 4 years, 5 months ago

If my own income is reduced, then my own outgo must be reduced. "Same level of funding" is not a viable model for a government whose citizens face the economy we do.

kansasmutt 4 years, 5 months ago

Still not one word on why they wont save us millions using the white rock to chip and seal the roads. Nothing on the savings that would come with buying open station tractors. Do they not have internet to open emails or read this ? Are they out of touch with us ? Can someone introduce them to the LJW and send them here to respond ? To think i voted for them, man i was stupid with my voting. I think next election i will write in G W Bush for the job. At least he knows what the internet is and how to go online and talk with the voters. I urge EVERYONE to contact them with emails and phone calls to voice your opinion. Maybe they can have someone show them how email works.

pinecreek 4 years, 5 months ago

Sounds like they've made up their minds before hearing a word in a public hearing. Nice.

What are the requirements to recall one of these fools? Perhaps that would get their attention.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

• $500,000 for economic-development activities and projects, designed to create jobs and boost the Lawrence area’s competitiveness in luring new companies and expanding existing ones ( This appears to be MORE money for the Chamber of Commerce)(over and above the $219,000 they will be receiving).

Such dedicated spending has been lacking for far too long, Thellman said, especially as other areas build on their own historic heritage and set aside millions more dollars per year to entice employers.

“We can only go on charm and beauty and quality-of-life issues for so long,” Thellman said. “We have to invest.”

I would have to disagree with Nancy Thellman on this one. Lawrence is so over built that it is difficult to attract tenants. A moratorium on new construction is one answer for certain.

When markets are over built that means Lawrence commissioners approved way too much in the last 15 years instead of growing responsibly and methodically.

Is Lawrence going to try to tell seasoned business people our markets are not flooded when they can see for themselves?

Lawrence,Kansas is a small town that does NOT have millions upon millions to throw at a problem that will be difficult to fix. Throwing $500,000 or millions is no guarantee that the Lawrence over built scenario will go away anytime soon.

As for the bio research industry Lawrence is far far far from the only town reaching out to this market.

Why not do market impact studies from 3 different outside sources?

Plus perform a Cost of Community Services Study to determine what is NOT paying back and perhaps determine which direction Lawrence should go,

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Basic findings:

  1. Lawrence is overbuilt in housing: Homes were built faster than popualtion growth supporting these homes. Excessive subdivisions caused an outmigration from older neighborhoods causing a severe loss of value, a loss of dwelling units, and a variety of other problems such as school closings.

  2. Lawerence is overbuilt in retail: Stores were built faster than retail spending growth supporting these stores. This excessive growth has hurt the public and private investment in downtown redevelopment (e.g.: the empty $8 million parking garage, the empty Hobbs-Taylor space, etc.) and has caused deterioration and blight in existing shopping centers (e.g.: Tanger Mall, Food-for-Less, etc.)

  3. Douglas County is overbuilt in manufacturing and warehousing; employment in these sectors is declining, not growing. Yet, the Chamber calls for more and more space in the false belief that more supply creates more demand.

  4. Office space in Douglas County is relatively well balanced, but the market for office space is severely crippled by the excessive supply of unused retail space which is competing for office tenants.

Basic strategy:

Lawrence should adopt a policy of "cooling off" the pace of development. Note: This is not a moratoriam; it is a consicous effort to redirect growth to existing neighborhoods and districts where it can be beneficial.

Housing: The city should stop approving new subdivisions until the existing supply of surplus homes is eliminated. It should direct housing investment back into older neighborhoods so as to preserve and protect the existing public and private investment there.

Commercial space: The city should stop approving plans for new commercial space until the existing surplus is eliminated. It should direct investment into the preseration of the downtown and other existing commercial districts so as to preserve and protect the existing publid and private investment there.

Kirk McClure – Lawrence,Kansas

Education Ph. D., City Planning, University of California, Berkeley, Department of City and Regional Planning, 1985. Concentrations in Housing Economics and Public Finance.

Master in City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 1978. Specialization in Housing Policy Analysis.

Bachelor of Arts, University of Kansas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1974. Special Major in Urban Studies.

Bachelor of Architecture, Graduated With Distinction University of Kansas, School of Architecture and Urban Design, 1973.

CreatureComforts 4 years, 5 months ago

What exactly does listing education have to do with anything? You can have all the degrees in the world and be an idiot, and all the brains in the world with no advanced degrees...

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

Is there a recall procedure for the elected county commissioners? Two need it.

And then replace the out of touch county administrator.

skinny 4 years, 5 months ago

Well, if they raise the taxes we'll have to see about doing a recall, this is plain crazy in these economic times.

I don't know how they think they can keep raising taxes and sales taxes. Crazy!!

No to any new taxes!!!!!!

average 4 years, 5 months ago

No to the undirected slush funds. N. O. No.

Godot 4 years, 5 months ago

I think it is time to investigate Thelman's relationship to the owners of the land that will be purchased.

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 5 months ago

A 2.076 mill increase for the school board A 3.3 mill increase for the county commission A 2.0 mill increase for the city for 20 years to pay for a new library = A 7.376 mill increase

But don't forget the 18.86% increase in the sales tax rate which took effect on July 1.

And don't forget the three sales tax increases which passed in November of 2008.

Taxed enough?

somedude20 4 years, 5 months ago

You load sixteen tons, what do you get Another day older and deeper in debt Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go I owe my soul to the company store

Read my lips #$&* you!!!

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

I would say instead fire the Chamber of Commerce and bring economic growth to city hall. So taxpayers can keep an eye on what's up.

The city and county PAY the Chamber of Commerce for advice ...... and have for years.

beaujackson 4 years, 5 months ago

What if EVERYONE withheld their prop. taxes in Dec.?

beezee 4 years, 5 months ago

If you have a mortgage, your taxes are paid from escrow and you get no choice. I'd favor forcing a recall election.

Keith 4 years, 5 months ago

If you have paid enough on your mortgage to have some equity (sorry I don't know the percentage) you can take back the escrow account and handle it on your own. It requires some discipline, but at least the money will be earning you interest until needed. It also gives you the leverage to pay late as a protest.

beezee 4 years, 5 months ago

If you have a mortgage, your taxes are paid from escrow and you get no choice. I'd favor forcing a recall election.

beezee 4 years, 5 months ago

I am disgusted with our commissioners. All of them. So, just ONE place to cut more in the economic times we are seeing would be salaries, i.e., no raises for county employees. Do they deserve a raise? SURE! But there are many businesses in the county whose employees got NO raise and the employees are simply damned glad to have a job and benefits.

For a branch of government to decide "well, since we can grab what we want by TAXES, then WE are giving OUR employees a raise" just plain sucks. The commissioners are 100% out of touch with reality.

Now as for such fatuous goals as "economic development" [a nebulous term that means "funnel public money to your buds in the business community"], or the even more nebulous "open space and heritage activities," BOTH must be eliminated! I really thought Flory had more sense. Plainly not. This is just NOT the time to pursue funding for what simply are feel-good goals. And this is even LESS the time to be looking for ways to tax the general public to slide money [ADDITIONAL money] to the already parasitic development sector!

I wish someone with a lot more talent than I have would seek a way to compel both the school board and the county commission to publicly post their budgets so that "we the people" could plainly SEE what cuts need to be made. The "town hall" system of government is starting to look better daily.

The public is being sold out by these elected officials. So, Flory says that the public comment periods won't be used for public discussion by commissioners but that people can get up, speak, and commissioners will keep your comments in mind. In other words, "we'll let you yap and then we'll do what the hell we please."

Practicality 4 years, 5 months ago

When do these clowns come up for re-election?

Jimo 4 years, 5 months ago

$500,000 to finance heritage-related efforts, plus preservation of historic features and open space. For my money, this is the most outrageous part of this proposal - unworthy of support even if people were flush with cash.

independant1 4 years, 5 months ago

at least half don't want to celebrate our heritage/traditions/history anyway, it's painfull for 'em

ResQd 4 years, 5 months ago

I just had my house appraised from a Kansas City outfit to refinance my home, and it was 21,000 below the estimate the city or county has put on it. If they raise property taxes, you better believe I will be at the courthouse appealing it.

gatekeeper 4 years, 5 months ago

Good luck! I've tried and they nicely tell you to shove it and show you the door. You can appeal, but they don't change the rate.

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 5 months ago

Same for me. My appraiser had me 19K below the county's level. My appeal was rejected.

lgreen17 4 years, 5 months ago

“You have to have a little bit of an increase just to stay even,” Flory said.

Maybe you can tell that to my employer, the university of Kansas. They haven't given us a raise in two years. I need an increase to stay even with my bills!

Vote them all out.

Shardwurm 4 years, 5 months ago

As an employee of the University of Kansas you have nowhere to talk. The University is heavily subsidized by taxpayers and the cost of tuition has out-paced inflation by 400 percent since 1980 - to pay for people like you.

You work for an organization that is responsible for crippling the current generation with mortgage-level debt for a degree that won't ever pay for itself.

You're lucky to have a job and you should be thankful you haven't been cut because frankly Education needs more reform than Health Care in this country.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

A public university should be largely funded by taxes - that's the idea.

And, I seriously doubt that students at public universities are amassing "mortgage-level debt" - that would certainly apply at private schools.

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

"The University is heavily subsidized by taxpayers "

Subsidized, yes, heavily, not for a long time. Last I read here on LJW wasn't something around only 23% of the budget was State funds? And continues to fall?

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 5 months ago

Heavily subsidized indeed. The cost per pupil per year at KU is close to $21,000. Tuition is around $7,000. The taxpayer is underwriting 2/3 of the cost of a regent university education.

Given the number of students that drop out, flunk out or graduate with worthless degrees, taxpayers should be outraged.

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

"The cost per pupil per year at KU is close to $21,000. Tuition is around $7,000. The taxpayer is underwriting 2/3 of the cost of a regent university education. "

No - You forgot to include endowment/donations, research, and other funds. Only something like 23% from the State.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

So, according to those figures, the total tuition cost for 4 years would be $28,000 - what kind of house can you get for that?

"Mortgage-level debt" my ***.

avoice 4 years, 5 months ago

Rural tourism? How did we end up with Nancy Thellman, anyway? Don't believe I voted for her, but don't believe I saw this kind of weird thinking coming down the pike when she was running for office.

We all knew that a property tax increase WAS coming down the pike, at least we should have. As soon as the property values started to drop and the county wasn't able to prop them up by spinning out stories about how the rest of the country's property values were dropping but not ours, well, you could smell the desperation. Their only other recourse to make their projections work was to propose a big tax hike so they could stay on track with the grandiose plans they dreamed up a decade ago when they convinced themselves that the boom years would be permanent, ongoing, even increasing.

But rural tourism? I can almost see why central and western Kansas counties might want to try something as nutty as rural tourism in their desperation. But the Douglas County economy is well situated to continue to develop its economy in traditional ways. What little rural landscape is left here should not be exploited as tourist attractions. Ye gods!

inspiration917 4 years, 5 months ago

Here are the email addresses for the Douglas County Commissioners:
Mike Gaughan (District 1) = mgaughan@douglas-county.com Nancy Thellman (District 2) = nthellman@douglas-county.com Jim Flory (District 3) = jflory@douglas-county.com

If you're not sure which district you're in, check the map at www.douglas-county.com. Click on County Commission, then scroll down for the map link.

Better yet--email all three and let them know how you feel. I did!

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

You can also call the county commissioners and give feedback on the phone which the very pleasant woman there will forward to to the commissioners.

According to her, they are interested in feedback, so give it to them.

The phone number is 785-832-5268.

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

Can't be done fast enough -- they, except Flory, are considering doing this huge "tax and spend" (and force some more of their neighbors out of their homes) now.

PapaB 4 years, 5 months ago

Oh, I know, lets try to attract businesses at a time when almost all businesses are not moving nor expanding. Oh wait, let's create tourist attractions at a time when tourism is at a low due to the bad economy. I know, let's squeeze as much as we can out of the taxpayers for our own personal reasons.

These people obviously don't care about the people. They live in their own little world.

gr3sam 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree 100%, completely. The only fair way is to vote!!

ralphralph 4 years, 5 months ago

DubyaTeeEff are these folks thinking?

If something that costs half-a-million a year has been put off for so long, one more year won't hurt any.

Somebody remind me ... what exactly is a "heritage related effort" ... that costs half-a-million per annum?

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

"what exactly is a "heritage related effort" .."

I'd guess a big part would be funds for the DC museum downtown, in that old red brick bank building.

In good or great times I'd be in favor. In these continuing, and likely to continue for a decade, bad times it's a turkey of an idea.

Chinaman 4 years, 5 months ago

Why did I buy a house in Lawrence? I just should have rented and reaped the vast rewards provided by local government for free!

dogsandcats 4 years, 5 months ago

When you rent, the landlord figures the property tax into your rent. However, what vast rewards?

absolutelyridiculous 4 years, 5 months ago

Beth Johnson and Judy Billings have got to love this.

This seems like a desperate attempt to stop the leak of this sinking ship.

basenji 4 years, 5 months ago

Where are the news stories or blog comments about the deadbeat delinquents that just aren't paying their taxes? I'm not talking about the state, county, and local taxpayers one year behind, but the businesses or individuals owing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in property tax, real estate tax, sales tax, business employee tax, hotel room tax, and State income tax with debts going back three or four years. If you have a tax debt of over a hundred thousand, it would seem to me there would be some assets to seize and sell. Delinquent tax information is available on the KS Department of Revenue website. Unfortunately, the Douglas County KS website property tax deadbeats can't be easily traced because you can only search by address or parcel, unlike a lot of other Kansas county websites which publish a list with names and addresses. If tax collection is underfunded (remember last January when the State couldn't afford to send you a tax instruction booklet?) then this should be a priority. Any State, County, or local tax increase proposal means all the rest of us are picking up the tab. I am familiar with all of the Douglas County businesses that are in arrears more than two years, and guess what? I do not shop at your store or buy your pizzas (and there are more than one shop on the list).

kansasmutt 4 years, 5 months ago

Not one of them has the ba*%s to get on here and answer a question about the waste.What a bunch of BS . To wait and vote them out is too late, the damage will have been done. Everyone has to email them or call NOW to voice your opinions. We need legal help from a local firm to step in on this matter PLEASE !!!!!!!!!!! Stop this stupid ignorant rate hike please. This is the worst thing that can happen to us taxpayers and business owners at this time. If this happens, this county will sink like a boat anchor in a fast way.

igby 4 years, 5 months ago

This is all BS!

Their just going to raise your taxes so they can keep the crap they have already hocked your future on.

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