An expanded public library, an increase in wages at City Hall and a handful of new police officers all have the city’s property tax rate on the rise, under a budget recommended by City Manager David Corliss on Friday.
Corliss’ recommended 2012 budget calls for an increase of 2.8 mills in the city’s property tax rate. If approved, it would be the first significant mill levy increase from City Hall since 2007.
“There are no city services that I’m recommending be cut,” Corliss said Friday. “I think the citizens expect high-quality city services. I think the citizen survey shows they are appreciative of the services we provide. They want that to continue, but in order for that to continue, we need increased resources.”
Three areas account for the proposed mill levy increase. They are:
- 1.7 mills to fund a voter-approved expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.
- 0.6 mill — or $535,000 — to fund increased compensation for city employees. The details of how that money would be spread around aren’t yet known because the city is still in tough negotiations with police and fire unions that have contracts expiring at the end of the year.
- 0.5 mill — or $400,000 — for additional police officers. The funding would allow the city to keep an existing detective position that is currently funded with an expiring federal grant. It also would allow the force to add four new patrol officers.
A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. A 2.8 mill increase would raise the annual property taxes on a $200,000 home by $64.40.
Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell said he agreed with the general premise of not making cuts to city services, but he said that requires a mill levy increase.
“We have just squeezed and squeezed over the last several years, and we just don’t have much room left to do that,” Cromwell said. “It comes down to what department would you like us to eliminate? I think most citizens expect the same services they have been receiving.”
Corliss said he expects the police department budget to get much more discussion from city commissioners beginning next Friday when they hold a study session on budget topics.
“I tried to strike a balance,” Corliss said. “The commission may want to do more than what I’ve recommended.”
Corliss’ budget also calls for a formal study in 2012 of police department needs. He said that study will examine whether a new law enforcement building should be constructed in the city that he predicts will lead to conversations about whether the city, the sheriff’s department and the Kansas University police department should begin sharing more resources or even merge.
“I’m not recommending anything on that front, but if we are going to build a large law enforcement facility, we need to have a discussion about how we are going to provide law enforcement services for the long term.”
The recommended budget also has funding for several street projects and new economic development efforts, and even urges the community to begin planning for recognizing the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on the city. Here’s a look at several items:
- $5.1 million for street maintenance efforts, which is down slightly from $5.5 million in the 2011 budget. In addition to maintenance work, the city will take out new debt for several larger projects. Projects that will be under way in 2012 include: a rebuilding of Iowa Street from near Harvard Road to the Irving Hill overpass; repaving of Sixth Street west of Iowa; city participation in a state project to rebuild the 23rd Street bridge west of Haskell Avenue; and a partial rebuilding of Wakarusa Drive north and south of Bob Billings Parkway.
- $1 million to address maintenance needs on existing city facilities. They include: $450,000 for repairs to the Riverfront and New Hampshire Street parking garages; $180,000 to repair the roof at City Hall; $100,000 for concrete repair and slide repairs at the Outdoor Aquatic Center; $150,000 for repairs at Deerfield Park; and $125,000 in repairs to skateboard park at Centennial Park.
- $1.75 million to purchase a new quint and a new hazardous materials vehicle for the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department, with funding coming from an infrastructure sales tax approved by voters in 2008.
- $500,000 in new funding to the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority to help fund an expansion of its new incubator facility on Kansas University’s West Campus. The city would issue debt to provide the authority with an upfront payment as it does fundraising for the expansion. Corliss anticipates an additional $500,000 payment, funded with debt, would be made in 2013.
- About $2.1 million would be spent from various reserve funds and city savings accounts to fund programs that Corliss said would otherwise have required a mill levy increase. The city will spend about $900,000 of savings and reserve funds to partially pay for $2 million worth of radio replacements for police, fire and public works. The radio replacements are mandated by new federal frequency rules. Also proposed is to spend $1.2 million from a reserve fund the city has as part of its insurance program. The spending will allow the city to lessen the impact on employees of a change to the structure of the city’s health insurance plan. The city has a little more than $12 million in its main general fund savings account, and has about $7 million in its main insurance savings account.
- Corliss is urging commissioners to appoint a group of Lawrence residents who would come up with suggestions for how the city could recognize the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid and the rebuilding of the city. The anniversary will be Aug. 21, 2013. Corliss said the group and ultimately the City Commission could determine whether a new work of art, historical markers, exhibits, an event or some other recognition would be appropriate. He said funding from the city’s Guest Tax fund could be used, although he attached no dollar amount to the idea.
“The massacre of Lawrence citizens and community destruction at the hands of Quantrill’s raiders — and the subsequent rebuilding of our community — is a major event in Lawrence’s history,” Corliss wrote in budget letter to commissioners. “It dramatically stands for so many important values, including courage, determination, respect for the worth of individuals in the opposition to the horror of slavery, and sacrifice for principle.”
Commissioners will meet in a study session at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss Corliss’ recommended budget. Commissioners will need to finalize a budget by mid-August.