The idea of special taxes needs some special attention at City Hall.
City commissioners at a Tuesday afternoon study session agreed that they need to have a conversation sooner rather than later about just how much they are going to use incentives — like Community Improvement Districts — to attract new retail development.
Commissioners broached the topic as part of a discussion of City Commission goals for the year. Some commissioners said the current city goals may be sending the wrong message about how much the city intends to use retail incentives, especially the creation of districts that allow retailers to charge a special sales tax to pay for both public and private development expenses.
“If we’re really not going to use them, let’s not put them on our list and have everybody go through all the effort,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
The idea of retailers charging a special tax — currently two do, The Oread hotel near Kansas University and the Bauer Farm development near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive — became a hot topic during April’s City Commission election. Commissioner Bob Schumm won the top spot in the election with a campaign that opposed the districts.
Mayor Aron Cromwell said he thought the commission informally had sent a message about its thoughts on the use of special taxing districts but supported taking more formal action.
“I think we have said before that almost never is when we are going to use that particular tool,” Cromwell said. “But we can’t foresee every project that may be out there.”
Commissioners Hugh Carter and Mike Dever both said they supported having a commission discussion on the topic but wanted to be more open to possibly using the districts for some retail development in the city.
“I think we do need to establish what some of the characteristics of a project are before we would consider a district, but I absolutely think we still need to consider them and remain open to them,” Carter said.
Amyx said if the commission is going to hear more requests for special taxing districts in the future, the commission needs to decide whether it will require businesses who charge the special sales tax to post a sign notifying customers of the tax’s existence. The previous City Commission had indicated it was leaning in that direction but never formalized such a policy.
In other news from the city’s goal-setting and budget study session, commissioners:
• Asked City Manager David Corliss to get a firm update from the Lawrence Community Shelter on its efforts to find a location for the homeless shelter. Carter also urged the commission to have a broader discussion about the community plans to serve the homeless after a new shelter opens. Carter said he believes there are many homeless people who currently use the existing shelter’s drop-in center who will be left downtown without a place to go once a new shelter opens. The new shelter, as currently planned, won’t have a drop-in center. Only people who are part of a broader program will be allowed to stay at the new shelter.
• Agreed to hold a study session at 4 p.m. June 14 at City Hall to discuss the Lawrence Police Department and its future needs. New Chief Tarik Khatib has asked for $1.2 million in funding to add 14 new positions to the police force.