Archive for Monday, June 20, 2011

Town Talk: Zarco looking to expand on Iowa Street; scenarios floated at City Hall to increase mill levy by more than 4 mills; funding cuts to social service agencies, streets and police also mentioned

June 20, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• File this away in the category of: I’ve been out-of-state for a week and don’t know what’s going on. But, it appears that the Zarco 66 convenience store at Ninth and Iowa streets is looking to expand. Lawrence architect Paul Werner sent me a note while I was away alerting me that his firm has filed plans at City Hall to combine the existing Zarco 66 station with the former BP station that is just south of the Zarco site. I haven’t seen the plans yet, but I’ll take a look and tell you more in a future Town Talk. As we reported back in February, the BP station at 914 Iowa was closed down by Topeka-based Haag Oil Co.

• Now available at Lawrence City Hall: A mill levy menu. Whether you will be interested in ordering from it, however, is another matter. City staff members on Tuesday will present to city commissioners several scenarios that would raise the mill levy for the 2012 budget. As it stands right now, the 2012 budget has about $1.2 million worth of unfunded items in it. City commissioners, of course, could get out the budget knife and cut some more expenses. (More on that in a moment.) But the city manager’s office also has put together a list of scenarios that would increase the mill levy by anywhere from 1.7 mills to 4.6 mills. Commissioners are being asked to consider the increases because there is concern from City Hall leaders that even with cuts to expenditures that a “gap remains between anticipated revenues and expenditures necessary to continue to support an appropriate level of city services.”

In total there are 11 different scenarios that City Manager David Corliss and his staff have put together for city commissioners. Honestly, all the information can be a bit overwhelming. So, here’s the list, but here’s my summary of some of the major issues the proposed mill levy increases try to address. (For your reference, a one mill increase would add $23 per year to the property tax bill of a $200,000 home.)

  1. An expanded Lawrence Public Library. Count on at least a 1.7 mill increase for a larger downtown library. Voters approved that project, so the mill levy increase will happen. Actually, voters blessed a 2.0 mill increase, but City Hall leaders are proposing 1.7 mills for 2012 and then the full 2.0 mills for 2013. That’s a recognition that the library won’t open until 2013, and thus the full amount won’t be needed until then.
  2. Increased compensation for city employees: Ten of the 11 scenarios include about $380,000 (or 0.4 mill) for increased compensation for city employees. If you’re playing along at home, the library + increased employee compensation would total 2.1 mills.
  3. Employee health care: The city estimates it needs about $700,000 (0.8 mill) to maintain its existing health care plan for employees. Currently city employees don’t pay a premium for their health insurance. (They do pay if they add their spouse or families to the plan.) But commissioners are expected to consider changing plans. The new plan would have higher premiums and deductibles for employees. So, library + compensation + health care = 2.9 mills.
  4. Police Detective: The city currently has a detective position that is funded largely through grant money. That grant is set to expire, but the city would like to keep the detective position. That would require $100,000 (0.1 mill)
  5. More police officers: New police Chief Tarik Khatib has told city commissioners that he believes the department needs more police officers. One plan would call for one detective and four new police officers at a cost of $400,000 (0.5 mill). Another option would add one detective, three sergeants and five officers at a price of $800,000 (1 mill). A third option would add one detective, three sergeants and 10 officers at a price of $1.2 million (1.5 mills).
  6. Radios. The city is under a federal mandate to get all of its radios for police, fire, public works and the utilities department operating under a new band of frequencies. Radio replacement has been on the city’s to-do list for a number of years, but now the deadline is set to become an issue in 2012. To replace all the radios would be $2.08 million (2.5 mills.)
  7. The savings account: The city has about $12 million in an account called its general fund balance. It basically is money that the city has been able to save over the years. Expect serious discussion about dipping into that account for the first time in several years. The budget scenarios presented by Corliss anticipate taking anywhere from $425,000 to $600,000 out of the account. But that number could go higher, depending on what commissioners choose to do with other issues.

• I told you we would mention possible cuts that city commissioners could choose to make to the budget. Corliss has put together a list of items for commissioners to consider. The only thing certain about this list is that each one will make some group mad.

  1. Cut social service agency funding by 50 percent. That would save the city about $280,000. (Remember, the “gap” is about $1.2 million.) The cut in funding would hit well-known social service programs, like the Boys and Girls Club, the Ballard Center, the Lawrence Community Shelter, the Lawrence Arts Center, and others. It also would create a decision for city commissioners. Do they just cut social service funding or do they cut funding to all the outside agencies it funds? That larger group includes organizations like Downtown Lawrence Inc., the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Douglas County Bioscience Authority and the Humane Society.
  2. Reduce the city’s street paving program. The city in 2011 is expected to spend about $2 million on milling and overlaying city streets. Corliss said the city could choose to do less of that in 2012, but noted that improving streets was a top priority of residents in the recent Citizens Survey. It also would create a question of whether the city is going back on what it told voters in 2008 when they approved a new infrastructure sales tax. During that campaign, the city said it would use the new infrastructure sales tax to add to the total amount of street work going on in the city. It indicated it would not use the new sales tax as an opportunity to cut existing street funding. Now, three years later, it seems like that is at least an option.
  3. Put a freeze on vehicle purchases. As currently crafted, the 2012 budget includes about $200,000 to purchase eight police cars. The commission could choose to push those purchases off for a year.
  4. Delay filling vacant police positions. The department currently has five vacant police officer positions. It has plans to start hiring those positions later this year. Corliss said the city could push that off and save about $290,000 this year, which could then be used to help offset the gap in 2012. But this obviously goes against the advice of the police chief.
  5. Closure and reduced hours. Back in 2009, Corliss proposed several cuts that could be made if the city ended up losing about $1 million in state funding. The reduction in state funding didn’t materialize, but anger over the proposed cutbacks at City Hall did. Those proposed cuts included closure of the Prairie Park Nature Center, reduced hours for the city’s swimming pools and other recreation facilities, and defunding of the city’s crossing guard program. In a recent memo, Corliss said commissioners could consider those list of cuts again, but acknowledged that they were “highly unpopular” among the public.

City commissioners will discuss all things budget-related at a 4 p.m. study session on Tuesday at City Hall.


jmadison 6 years, 11 months ago

City employees do not pay health care premiums for their insurance coverage? Is this correct? If correct, that is a tremendous perk.

Georgine McHenry 6 years, 11 months ago

If you go to the city's website and look at the full time openings, it says single premium paid for by the city. It also lists a low to high range for the position being offered and vacation (to be earned) and holiday information (9 days) and sick time earned. I think that was 1/2 day per pay period. Raises were given at between 2 1/2 to 5 % based on supervisors reviews. Nice if you fit their mold or brand of politics. I think the wages are pretty good but are too high for Lawrence's average. The employees probably can earn a living wage but I don't think that the majority of the population does. Let's not forget that Corliss increased the longevity perk by 50% not too long ago also. Things may have changed since I worked there but I don't think much.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 11 months ago

200,000 K for 8 cars, Martha! Get my heart pills! I just found 5 Fords, 2 Chevys and a 67 Plymouth Fury II for less than 22K. We get to keep the stuff in the trunks, could be worth another 50 tamales.

Talk about savings, just think our cops wheeling around in real cars.

Add a hundred bucks for seat covers, duct tape, some clear silicone window repairs boom good as new. Hammer the dings out, strap a spare tire on the front and time for cosmetics. Hand um over to Van Gogh for painting and then to my cousin Big Ed for a good eyeballing Ozark tuneup. Glue on a big Cherry on top, talk about stopping criminals.

We could call our fleet Vintage. Or couldn't we just borrow them from the KU Athletic Dept.?

auntmimi210 6 years, 11 months ago

Van Go-painted police cars would be awesome!! "Vintage", I love it!

appleaday 6 years, 11 months ago

Why does the Chamber of Commerce get public funding?

Eric Neuteboom 6 years, 11 months ago

It's a good question, isn't it? And as someone who has decided to not renew my membership, I'd also be curious to know what it is they actually do?

JackButler 6 years, 11 months ago

Speaking from a first hand experience there is answering in coming calls(which is very few.) and internet surfing/checking Facebook.

Add in that 2 hour lunch date downtown everyday. (Take note of the over all girth of Chamber employees)

That is pretty much it. So much of their job is kush it would piss off anybody. The Lawrence Chamber is a lot of talk and "out of office" moments.

Tony Kisner 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree also. I think the mission statement begins and ends with collect dues.

irvan moore 6 years, 11 months ago

downtown lawrence and the chamber are the places to cut funding, not services and organizations that lower income familys need. show some leadership and say we can't afford a new library/parking monument so we will cut the parking garage out of the plan and save 5 million dollars. i understand that common sense and government don't go together but give us taxpayers a break. there is no money for this stuff so don't build it.

nekansan 6 years, 11 months ago

The only problem is the Library/Eldridge parking garage was submitted as a bond issue which was approved by voters. So the city council no longer has the flexibility to cut it. They can certainly choose not to move forward with the expanded parking plan, which IMO should be cut, but the library/parking garage is a done deal.

no_thanks 6 years, 11 months ago

The parking garage is the best element about the Library project, and frankly, the only investment that will still have value in the next decade (as subscriptions move more to e-books, the need for more meeting space is rebuffed, and the need for free DVD's and CD's (their most popular subscription items) is eliminated due to needed cuts to the library's operating budget).

The Chamber receives funds for Economic Development, but I suppose that responsiblity could be turned over to the City (which given their poor history of interacting with current and prospective businesses is about what this City deserves). As for funding social services, I would have no problem with it except for the fact that the funding is determined by who has the most political clout (i.e what organziations are beneficiary's of the Commissioner's pet projects) with the current commission rather than an allocation based on a true cost-benefit analysis.

News_to_me 6 years, 11 months ago

The real question is what kind of problems would loss of funding create for these agencies. On the one hand, you have cats, dogs and kids running amuck and people going hungry. On the other, you have a reduction in the ability to speculate and self-promote. Perhaps, the Chamber and the DLA could move into a city owned building instead of paying rent. The city still owns the Riverfront Plaza, correct? Probably not on par with their usual accommodations, but we've all got to make sacrifices. Doing anything other than making cuts to non- essential services would simply be wrong. Unfortunately, cuts in services to those who need them most, oftentimes, seem to be standard operating procedure.

pace 6 years, 11 months ago

I suggest cutting all city office open hours to Monday to Thursday, or Tuesday to Friday. A four day work week with cuts to all pay. including the top administrators. If they did that every summer for a couple of years, I could handle it.

pace 6 years, 11 months ago

I suggest cutting all city office open hours to Monday to Thursday, or Tuesday to Friday. A four day work week with cuts to all pay. including the top administrators. If they did that every summer for a couple of years, I could handle it.

somedude20 6 years, 11 months ago

I cannot believe that all city employees have free healthcare. Are they (city employees) that grossly under paid that the city needs this perk to hire and retain employees? I am hard pressed to think of any job (other than active military) that gives out free health insurance for all of their employees.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 11 months ago

You would be very much surprised at some of public servants benefits. Not to bring up an old subject, but when you give employees free healthcare, and good healthcare the employee actually is being paid more.

It would mean hundreds of bucks to me and family.

Honkeycat 6 years, 11 months ago

Not all city employees have free healthcare. If the employee adds a spouse and/or children to the plan, it is not free....

somedude20 6 years, 11 months ago

Unless they work for the city, the spouses and children are not employees and should not get free healthcare (neither should the employees either) so it is free for the workers......

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

This would be tantamount to a pay cut. If they are truly being overpaid for the work they do, that may be in order. But how many city employees are actually overpaid?

Casual905 6 years, 11 months ago

It's my understanding only single City workers pay no health care premiums. Workers with families pay for coverage.

kernal 6 years, 11 months ago

We could go back to the 50's and 60's and close the bars at 11pm and have curfews for minors. We could go back to 3.2 beer for 18 year olds so they wouldn't be breaking the law just for a beer. We could up the age for driver's permit to 17 and license to 18; kids are more mature by then. Our state legislature could increase penalties for violent crimes as a deterrent.

That ain't gonna happen, so we will need to continue to add more police so people will have the freedom to get in trouble. It's a conundrum.

The city pays city employees health insurance in exchange for a low pay scale. I'm sure the city searches for more affordable plans every year as do most employers.

Hwy50 6 years, 11 months ago

I don't believe it is uncommon for employers that are the size of the city to pay full healthcare coverage for employees (sans family). I also don't understand why everyone believes that pay and benefits for public employees should run at the lowest common denominator.

jmadison 6 years, 11 months ago

Federal Government employees (sans family) pay anywhere from $87 to $220 per month for health coverage. Admittedly, federal workers receive lots of perks, but free health care is not one of them.

notanota 6 years, 11 months ago

I can name at least three regional employers that offer full family coverage pre-tax, and I'm sure I could name more. It's not that uncommon for skilled workers to get that as a benefit.

If you want clean drinking water and regular trash collection, I don't think it's too much to ask that workers get a medical plan.

notanota 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm fine with the mill levy. It would be all of an extra $46 a year for a $100k residential property. That's less than $4 a month for paved streets, job-creating new library construction, swimming pools and parks, and funded social services. ($100k is for easy math.)


Boy, it sure would be helpful if this article mentioned how city mill levies were calculated hint, hint.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 11 months ago

$46 here, $46 there and it starts adding up to real money. One of the many problems with this city is that it rarely looks at the larger picture when pondering tax policy.

roadwarrior 6 years, 11 months ago

cool. you can pay my share. County people didn't get to vote, dont get trash collection or water services and the parks and swimming pools we enjoy are at home. A raise in the mill levy is madness in this economy.

notanota 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree. We should be raising income tax, but since nobody wants to do that, this is what we have to do.

cowboy 6 years, 11 months ago

Instead of adding police who really just respond to an already committed crime , build a minimum security jail and take these repeat offender thug wannabes and get em off the street. Our officers and deputies are arresting the same folks over and over again while they just get out the next day.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

Don't forget to add in what the school district mill levy increase will be and what about the county? Will they want an increase too? You need to look at the whole picture.

Jeremy Lichtenauer 6 years, 11 months ago

The is self insured and only pays if there is a claim by the single employee, who is still responsible for the deductible and their percentage of the bill.

So, saying the city pays the health care premium is a lie.

If an employee goes the year without going to a doctor, the city is out absolutely NOTHING except the cost of administering the plan.

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