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Archive for Monday, May 16, 2011

Town Talk: Higher property taxes for the library on the way; police seek major funding increase; water rates to be debated; worries of $4.10 gas; yes, it must be City Hall budget time

May 16, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

• Despite what the thermometer says, summer must be just around the corner because it is budget time at Lawrence City Hall. Commissioners will dive into budget season with a study session on Tuesday. Each summer, the major task of the City Commission is to set a budget for the next year. Here are a few things to keep in mind as the city sets its budget for 2012.

  1. Your property tax rate will go up. Voters last year approved a 1.5-mill increase to fund an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. In addition, the city is expected to increase the operating budget of the library. Ultimately, expect about a 2-mill increase for the library. That will equate to about an extra $46 per year in property taxes for a $200,000 home.
  2. New Police Chief Tarik Khatib is requesting a lot of new funding for the department. Khatib is seeking $1.2 million in new funding to add 10 police officers, one detective and three sergeants to the staff. An increase of $1.2 million in funding would amount to an increase of 1.4 mills to the property tax rate. That would amount to about a $32 per year increase in taxes for a $200,000 home.
  3. Something has to give on water and sewer rates. The idea of people conserving water creates a lot of good feelings from an environmental standpoint. But from a financial standpoint, it sucks at the moment. The city now sells less water than it did in the late 1990s. That has not been good for the bottom line. Based on the first four months of the year, the city is projecting that water and sewer revenues will come in $1.9 million short of budget in 2011. As a result, water and sewer expenses are expected to exceed revenues by about $830,000. The city has a fund balance for water and sewer that can easily cover that shortfall. (The fund has about $14 million in it.) But utility leaders get worried anytime rates don’t cover the cost of services. For 2011, the City Commission went against staff’s advice and did not raise water and sewer rates. Expect staff to recommend a rate increase for 2012. The question will be how much. I will soon be asking what type of rate increase they have in mind. In the past, water and sewer rates have gotten discussed late in the budget process, which means they’ve gotten discussed less than some other parts of the budget that arguably don’t have as big of a monthly impact on residents. Just to scare you, here’s some information — according to Lawrence leaders — about rate increases being considered in other communities. Olathe is expected to ask for 5-percent increase in water rates and a 9-percent increase in sewer rates. Manhattan recently increased sewer rates by 20 percent and some water rates by 6 percent.
  4. Breaker, breaker, good buddy, our radios are soon to be broken, broken. In order to comply with new FCC regulations, the city needs to replace all of its radios used by the police, fire and public works departments by Jan. 1, 2013. That’s no small undertaking. The city estimates it will cost $1.98 million to replace all the radios. I’m not entirely sure what happens if the city doesn’t replace the radios. Will they stop working? Will the FCC slap the city on the hand? We’ll figure that out. Plus, this is a good time to remember with all budget issues that the city isn’t broke. It has a sizable general fund balance, which is kind of like a savings account. In recent years, the city has been loathe to dip into it, but we’ll see if that changes in 2012. At the end of this year, the city expects the fund balance account to stand at about $12 million.
  5. Don’t get sick, city employees. It looks like major changes are on the way to the city’s health insurance program. City employees currently don’t pay any premiums for their health insurance. (They do pay premiums if they want to cover a spouse or children.) City Manager David Corliss wants a serious discussion about implementing an $11-per-pay-period contribution from city employees. That may not be the biggest change city employees have to worry about. The city’s budget-crunchers also are recommending that the city move away from its traditional PPO type of system and go to a what is called a High Deductible Plan. That will mean higher deductibles and an increase in out-of-pocket expenses paid by city employees. At the end of the day, however, city employees would still be able to cover themselves and their family for a bi-weekly premium of $124. Without the changes, the city’s health care costs are expected to increase by 10 percent — or about $1.2 million. Corliss has set a budget goal of no new city money being directed toward health care expenses in 2012.
  6. Find a comfortable seat at the negotiating table. Negotiations with the city’s police and fire unions may take awhile. (See item No. 5.) In addition, though, the city last year implemented a new overtime policy that generally cuts back on the amount of overtime the city pays. The city wasn’t able to apply that new policy to police and fire unions because they were under contract. I would expect that to be a significant topic of discussion during these negotiations. Already, the City Commission has had two lengthy executive sessions to discuss fire and medical negotiations.
  7. And finally, just something for all of us to look forward to. The city is projecting that gasoline costs will be $4.10 per gallon in 2012. Of course, if the city actually knew the future of gasoline prices, it would not have its current budget problems. It would have a big bank account on Wall Street.

Comments

Scott Morgan 2 years, 11 months ago

and Brownback is killing the arts. Just think, no movies and gas is too expensive to move out of state. We are trapped like rats.........help

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pace 2 years, 11 months ago

My guess is gas will be $5. a gallon by election. It is Koch and boys way of campaigning while they rake in the bucks. The ads will play that it is Obama's fault. The best we can do is use less gas. No matter what we do, let them drill on the most sensitive sites, let them pour their mistakes in the gulf.Gas prices will dip every-time they get their way, but by election time it will be $5

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 11 months ago

You know what? I'd swear I just saw the first half of merrill's post on another thread today. Recycling!

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

And don't forget the reckless contribution USD 497 made without voter approval. You know that $20 million sports project known as PLAY.

And they want more..... which will definitely expand our tax dollar demands!

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

If property values are dropping revenue is coming up short so why does city hall continue to expand infrastructure and annex more area? This might be why the city is coming up short.

This is reckless management

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

Why does city hall continue to approve more and more new residential ?

Our city's current budget crunch could easily be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments. The community is way over extended in this regard.

If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality.

Lawrence,Kansas continued business as usual in spite of the wasted economy. How smart is this?

There are 9 million homes on the market and a large number of new foreclosures on the immediate horizon. This does not represent a healed economy.

The city could fix existing sidewalks and streets throughout the older parts of Lawrence. This does things:

  1. It keeps people working

2 It DOES NOT add miles and miles of new infrastructure that which we taxpayers are held responsible.

Should our water be a source for new dollars to support reckless management and reckless growth?

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

Perfect example:

"That has not been good for the bottom line. Based on the first four months of the year, the city is projecting that water and sewer revenues will come in $1.9 million short of budget in 2011. As a result, water and sewer expenses are expected to exceed revenues by about $830,000. The city has a fund balance for water and sewer that can easily cover that shortfall. (The fund has about $14 million in it.) But utility leaders get worried anytime rates don’t cover the cost of services. "

Why does city hall continue to approve more and more new residential which is in essence creating more demand and requiring more and more water and sewer lines. In general creates more and more demand on city services across the board.

Adding miles and miles and miles of new infrastructure is like adding miles and miles and miles of new taxes. In a bedroom community this is not expanding the tax base it is expanding our tax bills.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

If property values are dropping revenue is coming up short so why does city hall continue to expand infrastructure and annex more area? This might be why the city is coming up short. This is reckless management

They spend on projects that expand the list of tax payer liabilities. How does this make any sense? Why is city hall adding more and more new stuff? Seems quite like reckless management.

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gccs14r 2 years, 11 months ago

Maybe the water department should look at its fixed costs if it can't make expenses with reduced sales. The variable costs should go down with reduced sales. As for healthcare, maybe the city should self-insure.

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Kontum1972 2 years, 11 months ago

when i want to read a book i go buy a paperback....or go online...

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Betty Bartholomew 2 years, 11 months ago

Dangit - we just got our water bill under $100/month, between fixing a leaky sink and putting on an ultra-low-flow shower head. Guess we need to install a coin unit on the toilet and make the roomies pay per flush. Air Wick'll love us!

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57chevy 2 years, 11 months ago

Its interesting that only government jobs like the police feel like the crappier job they do, the more they should get paid. Lets directly link the police budget to the crime rate. I'll pay them more when they actually reduce crime. I've been pilfered enough times that I am no longer involved in the statistics becasue I longer bother to call the police. They won't do anything about property crime (no money in it). I used to be pissed off twice; once for getting robbed by a crook and once for getting robbed of my taxes. By not bothering to call the police I only get robbed once. Lets cut the police budget, lay off four or five officers and see if that doesn't motivate them to spend less time running speed traps and checking IDs and more time doing what I, for one, pay them for-stopping crime. On a separate but related note, don't you think that having the police publish at least annual if not monthly crime statistics? It would make it easier to decide how much they're worth. Keeping the statistics a secret certainly is suspicious. If they published the statistics, disgruntled citizens would be motivated to call the police just to help cut their budget.

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Keith Richards 2 years, 11 months ago

The way the sewer fees are calculated is asinine and truly unfair to those who do not have swimming pools and/or large yards with sprinkler systems.

Example: my sewer bill is lower than a friend of mines. I have a large pool and water my yard all spring, summer and fall (when necessary). I used about 8 times the amount of water as my friend did. However, I leave to Arizona in the winter time and the house has barely any water usage during the months when the sewer fees are calculated. Thus my sewer bills are actually lower than my friend who uses 1/8 the amount of water in a given year. That is absolutely stupid.

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Adrienne Sanders 2 years, 11 months ago

"At the end of the day, however, city employees would still be able to cover themselves and their family for a bi-weekly premium of $124"

Not really, b/c I'm guessing that $124/biweekly does not take into account the increased deductibles they'll be paying. Sucks.

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letsgiterdone 2 years, 11 months ago

I would be glad to increase my taxes for additional police force, however, anyone who voted FOR the library has absolutely no right to complain about how high taxes are getting. The library is a want and NOT a need!

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letsgiterdone 2 years, 11 months ago

I would be glad to increase my taxes for additional police force, however, anyone who voted FOR the library has absolutely no right to complain about how high taxes are getting. The library is a want and NOT a need!

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flyin_squirrel 2 years, 11 months ago

Nope, just get tired of hearing how our police force is understaffed, yet when we have 14 officers on patrol at night, we can afford to have 4 (which is 28% of the force) in the bars checking for minors. Looks to me like the donut shops must be closed and our officers have nothing else to do....

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amac 2 years, 11 months ago

sure glad people voted for the stupid library expansion...I could have used that extra money for gas in the car!

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kernal 2 years, 11 months ago

What with all the squirrel chattering this morning, I can't help but wonder if someone got busted for being underage in a fermented acorn juice bar.

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flyin_squirrel 2 years, 11 months ago

If we are so short on police officers, how does the police department have the resources to send 4 police officers into the bars checking for underage drinkers? And it isn't just grant money because this happens all the time.

Kansas City police departments don't have the resources to do this (and don't complain about being underfunded), but somehow Lawrence officer's must not have anything else going on....

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consumer1 2 years, 11 months ago

Something has to give on water and sewer rates. The idea of people conserving water creates a lot of good feelings from an environmental standpoint. But from a financial standpoint, it sucks at the moment. The city now sells less water than it did in the late 1990s. That has not been good for the bottom line. Based on the first four months of the year, the city is projecting that water and sewer revenues will come in $1.9 million short of budget in 2011. As a result, water and sewer expenses are expected to exceed revenues by about $830,000. The city has a fund balance for water and sewer that can easily cover that shortfall

see!!! I have been preaching to you idiots!!!

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