Optimism and pessimism battled at Lawrence City Hall on Tuesday, as city commissioners did their most detailed work yet on what’s expected to be a tight 2011 budget.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners he’s building his recommended budget on the hopeful assessment that Lawrence sales tax collections will increase by about 2 percent over this year’s totals, which are coming in below expectations.
“I’m still optimistic that that the economy will see some growth,” Corliss said.
But at least one commissioners said he believes 2011 might be the year the city needs to implement more significant employee layoffs.
“It is a tough pill to swallow, but I know a lot of businesses are having to look at reducing their payrolls,” Commissioner Lance Johnson said. “I don’t think the city is immune from that.”
Other commissioners stopped short of directing Corliss to look seriously at layoffs.
“My personal goal will be to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mayor Mike Amyx said.
The city has left several positions that have become vacant unfilled, but largely has avoided layoffs. Corliss is recommending that five vacant positions — most in Parks and Recreation and Public Works — remain unfilled for 2011.
Johnson also said he questioned whether the city was doing enough to really invest in economic development initiatives that would grow the city’s tax base, calling much of the City Hall talk on the subject “lip service.”
Amyx labeled that assessment “harsh,” noting that the city had invested money to improve business opportunities at the airport, in a West Campus biosciences incubator and a west Lawrence bioscience laboratory building.
In other budget news from the city’s study session:
• Corliss currently is estimating that the city will take in $64.3 million in its general fund in 2011. That’s up about $900,000, or 1.4 percent, from what the city expects to receive in 2010. Based on those estimates — which rely on sales tax collections increasing by 2 percent— the city would have a budget that is slightly out of balance. Corliss is estimating that city expenses in 2011 will come in about $100,000 more than revenues. The city has about $12 million in a version of a savings account that can cover such overages. Corliss thus far is not recommending an increase in the property tax mill levy.
• About $5 million worth of new debt is being proposed as part of Corliss’ budget to fund new capital improvements. Among the projects proposed are: replacement of one fire truck; resurfacing of West Sixth Street from Massachusetts to Iowa streets, and resurfacing and widening of West Sixth from Monterey Way to Folks Road; and the rebuilding of the westbound lanes of Bob Billings Parkway from Kasold to Crestline drives.
Commissioners will continue to work on the budget throughout the summer. The city must have an approved 2011 budget by late August.