A new round of cuts from Lawrence City Hall are being proposed just hours before commissioners meet this evening to approve a key part of the 2012 budget.
At stake may be whether city commissioners move forward with a new West Lawrence recreation center, purchase and rehabilitation of the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence, and future replacement of aging fire engines.
About 3 p.m. today, City Manager David Corliss released a new list of ways that the city could avoid a major property tax rate increase in 2012. Corliss’ original recommended budget called for an increase of 2.8 mills in the city’s property tax rate. The bulk of the increase — 1.7 mills — comes from a voter-approved expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. But the remaining increase of 1.1 mills was recommended to fund five additional police officers, and about $530,000 in compensation increases for city employees.
City commissioners at a Friday afternoon study session asked Corliss to look for ways to fund the pay raises and additional police officers without such a large increase in the mill levy. Under Corliss’ latest proposal, the mill levy increase for 2012 would be 1.9 mills instead of the 2.8 mills originally envisioned.
But in a memo, city leaders are warning that the cuts would have consequences. Among the cuts are:
• A permanent $200,000 reduction in parks and recreation funding. The memo says the cut would “substantially limit the ability of the Parks and Recreation Department and the city as a whole to take on new projects.” Projects that would be “difficult to sustain” include new recreation centers, new parks and trails, and the city’s acquisition of the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence. The city previously had agreed to participate in funding architectural work for the station. According to the memo, the city would not “be able to participate further nor seek ownership in the future.” The city also has been in discussion with Kansas University Coach Bill Self’s foundation about a public-private partnership to build a new West Lawrence recreation center. The memo casts concerns over whether that project would be allowed to move forward.
• A $300,000 reduction in what the city spends each year to replace aging fire equipment. As part of the infrastructure sales tax voters approved in 2008, the city agreed to spend about $500,000 of sales tax money each year to purchase new fire equipment. But the latest proposal would take that $300,000 of that $500,000 for fire equipment and spend it on street maintenance, another use allowed for as part of the election. The city then could reduce the amount of property tax dollars used to maintain streets by $300,000. That would allow the property tax mill levy to fall.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the maximum mill levy for 2012 budget.