News and notes from around town:
• Lawrence city employees are in line for a special year-end paycheck. City Manager David Corliss is recommending that the city continue with its practice of providing city employees with a “longevity payment” despite tight city finances.
Corliss is recommending the city spend $396,608 to provide the longevity payments. If approved, employees basically would receive $48 for every year that they’ve worked for the city. The $48 amount is the same as the city has done in past years, although commissioners last year toyed with the idea of cutting it to $24 per year. That recommendation brought strong opposition from several employee groups, including the city’s police and fire unions.
This year Corliss is recommending the full amount because he said city employees are being asked to pick up additional duties as the city’s work force shrinks. The city has cut its work force — not including police and fire — by about 15 percent since 2008.
But unlike last year, Corliss is not able to present a plan to provide the payments and keep the city’s budget balanced. The latest financial projections indicate the city will have to pull about $100,000 from its savings account — called a fund balance — to cover its general fund expenses. The city is projecting to spend $63.503 million from its general fund and is expecting to receive $63.402 million in revenues.
• A new report is out that gives more details about the city’s financial condition through the first three quarters of the year. Through September, the city had collected $49.8 million in revenue in its general fund, up from $45.5 million during the same period a year ago.
Among the line items that have increased the most: electric franchise fees — a type of sales tax charged on electric bills — are up 12 percent or about $345,000 due to higher electric rates charged by Westar; license and permit fees are up 13 percent, due to an increase in building permit activity; fines from police officer tickets are up 6.4 percent, or about $16,000, and fines from municipal court cases are up 28.9 percent or about $457,000.
Revenues from sales taxes are up 14.4 percent or about $2.7 million, but that is not a sign that the city’s retail economy has turned around. Instead, the increases are because 2010 is the first full year for the city’s new infrastructure and transit sales taxes. When the new sales taxes are taken out of the equation, collections are down about 1.5 percent.
On the spending side, total spending in the general government category — which includes most of the city’s administrative functions — increased by 2.6 percent, or about $330,000, with health care costs being the largest driver. Spending on public safety — namely police and fire — increased by less than 1 percent or about $100,000.
• City commissioners are set to fill a vacant position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Mayor Mike Amyx is recommending Bryan Culver be appointed to the position. Culver works in the wealth management services department of Lawrence-based Peoples Bank. He would take the spot of Hugh Carter, who resigned after he announced he was running for a spot on the Lawrence City Commission. Commissioners will vote on the appointment at their Tuesday evening meeting.