Archive for Sunday, July 1, 2012

City lags in future planning

Officials assessing big-picture needs of community

July 1, 2012


If the mindset of one voter is any indication, many voters didn’t know much about the need for a $30 million police headquarters facility when they approved an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library in November 2010.

The one voter? Mayor Bob Schumm.

Schumm wasn’t yet on the City Commission — he took office in April 2011 — but he certainly paid more attention than most to city issues. But he said recently the amount of need at the Lawrence Police Department caught him by surprise.

“I’m not going to second guess the need for the library at all,” Schumm said. “There is certainly a need there, but I didn’t know before I got elected that we were that far behind at the Police Department.”

In June, city commissioners received a report estimating it would take $30 million to build a new headquarters building for the Lawrence Police Department. When commissioners asked for a more detailed plan related to staffing the new facility, commissioners were presented with a plan that totaled $42 million.

Commissioners recently were told the city’s existing debt policies won’t allow the city to fully finance a $30 million police headquarters building with general obligation debt. That’s because the city already has committed to issue $18 million in bonds for the library project. If the city issued an additional $30 million in bonds, it would push the city above its own guidelines for the amount of debt per capita and also would raise the city’s bond mill levy to a rate above what the policy calls for.

The City Commission has the ability to change its own policy, but absent that the city likely would have to look at a sales tax increase to help pay for the $42 million worth of police needs.

Some commissioners are now wondering whether enough work was done to ensure voters understood the big-picture list of needs in the community.

“I think the library project will be a great project,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter, who also took office in April 2011. “But for whatever reason, I think this Police Department project hasn’t been raised to the level it should have been.

“When the public went to the polls, I don’t think they knew this kind of need was looming. We need to get a plan together for this, and we need to do a better job going forward.”

A five-year plan

When it comes to planning for potential big-ticket projects, Lawrence doesn’t quite do it like many other communities.

City Auditor Michael Eglinski in a September 2011 audit made a set of recommendations urging the city to do more in the arena of long-range planning. Specifically, he said the city should start preparing a five-year capital improvements plan and start making multiyear financial projections of major revenues and expenditures of the city.

“I think it would be good to have a formal five-year plan on paper,” Eglinski said recently. “Everybody would have to understand that it would never be written in stone, but it would allow everyone to see the costs you have to address and then talk about the trade-offs you may have to make.”

In his audit, Eglinski found 13 of the 14 cities he uses as peer communities for Lawrence prepare multiyear capital improvement plans. Lawrence, however, hasn’t prepared an overarching multiyear capital improvement plan since 2008, Eglinski said.

But that is changing. City Manager David Corliss said his staff is now working on a five-year plan. He said it will be presented to city commissioners for review and approval in July.

“I think as we work through a number of larger projects, a plan like that is going to become more valuable,” Corliss said.

But Corliss stressed city leaders are doing multiyear planning currently. The city, for example, has a 10-year plan for major infrastructure projects that would be funded by the voter-approved infrastructure sales tax. It also has a multiyear plan for water and sewer projects that need to be undertaken. And sometimes, as in the case of the police facilities project, big-ticket items come up during the annual budget process. Police needs have come up over multiple years in city budget sessions.

The city, however, doesn’t have one single plan that combines the largest projects from all those lists. Corliss said one danger of a such a plan is that it can create the perception that one commission is making decisions for future commissions. In reality, each new commission has to make its own decisions about whether to follow through on a project, even if it is on a multiyear plan.

Corliss also said such plans can give people the impression that the budget is a rigid document that rarely changes. He said that hasn’t been the case, especially during the recent economic downturn when his office has had to make midyear spending adjustments to ensure the budget will balance.

“I’m a little bit worried about people thinking you have a five-year plan and you can put it on auto-pilot,” Corliss said. “I can promise you, we focus on the budget every week.”

Corliss also said he doesn’t believe the lack of a five-year plan created confusion among voters when they went to the polls for the library issue.

“I think the idea that there might be trade-offs was part of the discussion leading up to that vote,” Corliss said. “We told the public that it would cost 1.5 mills to pay the debt on the library project. I think everybody understood that may mean it would be difficult to ask for other projects in the near future.”

But as more large projects begin to emerge — currently commissioners are discussing the police facility, a regional recreation complex, a $54 million sewage treatment plant, millions of dollars to create an industrial park at the former Farmland Industries site, among others — Corliss believes a five-year plan can be a good tool to communicate with the public.

Schumm said he think it also will help elected officials.

“There really is a global question here: Should we not have the palette of needs in front of us when we’re making decisions?” Schumm said. “That seems to be a reasonable way to do it because you only have so much money.”


irvan moore 5 years, 10 months ago

on this one i think we have to blame corliss, he is paid to make decisions in the best interests of the city, not to rubber stamp the wants of the commissioners. it was his responsibility to let the commission and the citizens know what the city was going to need in the future, i miss wildgen, the commission canned him because he did his job and stood up to them when it was best for the city

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

You can certainly blame Corliss. He should be fired. You can also blame Cromwell and the rest of the city "leaders" who basically lied to the community to cram the library/parking garage through.

These people are the problem in this community.

softsun 5 years, 10 months ago

David Corliss is fantastic. His training, background and natural ability coming from great American patriot values equip him to clearly understand the people elect and the elected commissioners direct. There is no doubt the elected decide the order of march for library project, the recreation center, the east hills development, the police department and emergency communications equipment. David is doing a great job of doing what he is told by his bosses, our elected commissioners. David participates in our community, he and his family are anchored in more projects than can be listed. There is no doubt, David Corliss is a great American who stays in the fight to implement the directions of the commissioners. Lawrence is fortunate David Corliss is willing to serve and would be an asset to any organization with which he chooses to associate. He is doing his job of implementing the direction if his commission, a job he performs with exception acceptance. We all need to encourage him and thank him for the endless hours, phone calls and attending to all the interaction it takes to succeed in this most important role for our City and all of us..

JustNoticed 5 years, 10 months ago

Oh, you're right. Let's start a fan club right now. Gee willikers, it makes all giddy like. You be the President, ok?

ksrover 5 years, 10 months ago

Must be a family member. No one that works for him would agree with anything in this statement.

LogicMan 5 years, 10 months ago

I'll save them some time; here's the plan:

There will be little to no growth, and people will continue to be financially strapped for the next ten years or so. The population's average age will increase somewhat. So:

Concentrate of efficiency. Independently revue all expenditures, and cut down or out what's not absolutely necessary. Pay-down debt.

"Invest" savings from the above in maintenance and efficiency. If any is leftover, use for business development and cost-effective services and features that make Lawrence an attractive place to raise kids, get an education, work, play, and retire.

That's the plan. Learn it, love it, live it.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

softsun, bravo on the satire. Well done!

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

and I just want to remind everyone, the same idiot that crammed the library/parking garage through was put in charge of "fixing" your garbage collection. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

pizzapete 5 years, 10 months ago

The need for a new police facitility caught me off guard as well. I would have to agree that a project of this size should have been many years (10-15) in the making with a clear idea of where the money was going to be coming from to pay for it. I'd also have to agree with the letter writer that the way our city is growing seems to have no blueprint at all. That is unless building 300 new apartments and adding 5 new Mexican Restaurants every 4 to 5 months is your idea of well reasoned planning for the future. We may not have any money to pay for any city services (police, fire, trash, water and sanitation) but at least we'll be sure to have cheap apartments and tacos for the next 15 to 20 years.

patkindle 5 years, 10 months ago

lets face it , more than 1/2 lawrence citizens dont have the resources to support the needs of the city however, they use and need these services more than anyone else this is why it is expected of those monied people who are working and paying taxes, to dig a little deeper to keep those needs met. this is the way we roll today rob from the rich, give to the poor hope and change you know

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

I would bet considering the many budget increases for the LPD over the last 25 years,water,trash and sewer rate increases,swimming admission increases,pot hole tax increases,over paid Chamber of Commerce increases,tax increases to keep the tax dollar money hole west side development rolling along etc etc there has been I would imagine at least 400 tax increases over the last 25 years.

Simply because water and sewer rates increase is no indication either service has become more expensive it simply means the development of west Lawrence needs more pork barrel tax dollars.

Has anyone ever asked themselves why in the world a half cent tax increase was necessary to existing roads in good working order? I asked why isn't maintenance of existing tax payer owned infrastructure included in the public works budget?

My answer is way too much development out west is not paying back. So rather than cut it off until the new development can take care of it self the city keeps spending at "boom town economy" pace thus all types of tax increases are laid out.

Then millions upon millions upon millions of preferential treatment tax dollars are given away as if Lawrence does not need those tax dollars. What do they say? We're not losing money Lawrence never had = my interpretation. Any way you look at it Lawrence needs all of the tax dollars we can get our hands on so that my taxes can be reduced.

James Minor 5 years, 10 months ago

The library upgrades is a great example of future planning. The cost of the re-development meets the needs of Lawrence by allowing the citizens to have resource of information and the latest communication. The police projections are not thought out. More analyses needs to be placed on why and the positive impact to the community the proposal will bring to Lawrence. Because there is a new police chief does not merit exorbantant requests and approvals.
A long term plan, 5 or 10 years, with stop gaps in the approval process should be implemented in the planning to allow new commisioners to revisit and challenge earlier decisions and changes in the economy.

cowboy 5 years, 10 months ago

What major organization does not have a rolling 3-5 year capital plan ? Where / who developed the LPD spur of the moment mongo plan? Why is there a fortune spent every year on water but never any efficiency , only increases ? Who besides the police department think we need more police ? Who gets paid to do these things and doesn't ?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Water efficiency is not a Lawrence concern. Why? Because the city can make so much money selling water and other services.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 10 months ago

Where does the new west side rec center fall in the five year plan? Was the city talking about it even one year ago? I'm guessing the major players are too well connected to be put on a waiting list behind the LPD and library.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

The 1995 sales tax was never dedicated to the Park department which meant the money is open for other uses. Some items are paid off which means tax dollars are available. Could a portion of this money be put to better use or equally important use? Of course.

10% of this 1995 sales tax revenue could have been dedicated to the library rehab project and operations funding for ever thus eliminating any need for any new tax dollars. The city commission chose to reject this concept. Even the LJW thought the concept worthy.

Comment to the city commission:

Comment to the Lawrence City Commission on 7/06/10

Yes the city should always maintain its existing resources such as streets,sidewalks and the wonderful resource known as the public library. Let’s allow the taxpayers to decide.

Yes is my vote.

However I would like to introduce a fiscally responsible taxpayer friendly proposal. Options the city can live with that include no increase in taxes. Hats off to this concept.

The COUNTY portion of the one cent sales tax that was approved in 1995 can generate up to $14,036,301 annually as of 2009. Obviously more in better years

The CITY portion of the county 1% sales tax can generate up $8,609,331 as of 2009 obviously more in better years.

The two together = $22,645,672 annually again obviously more in better years. So I say let’s use a portion of this to finance our library reconstruction. Let’s use the number 10% of this tax dollar revenue annually.

Choice: A. City/County tax revenue combined using 10% annually = 2,264,567. 20 for 10 years = project paid off with existing sales tax revenue

B.City sales tax only using 10% annually of city tax revenue only = $1,403,630.10 for 15 years with existing sales tax revenue

C. personal property tax increase ….. my last but least desirable choice.

Let the voters decide. The tax dollars after all belong to we the tax paying citizen. City Hall would need to adjust it's spending accordingly with regard to future park and rec projects. I think taxpayers could live with that.

It's up to the citizens to persuade our city government to make these choices available on the ballot. I will vote yes. However taxpayers should be provided options by which this project could be funded.

It's easy to see if 10% of this funding were forever dedicated to the library no other revenue source would be necessary perhaps forever. IF 5% were dedicated to operations after construction expenses the library would be in great fiscal position. All without a tax increase.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 months ago

Part of solution sack the current form of city government, now a bunch of amatures (many rotating terms) hiring a semi-professional City Manager that is not directly responsible to the electorate.

Implement a "Strong Mayor" form where the city's chief executive position is directly elected by and responsible to the electorate. In this case, the executive would need to be professional, hopefully with not all of the ties to the country club set that currently exists in Lawrence.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 10 months ago

Hellooo. Lawrence outgrew the comprehensive plan, H2020, quite a while ago, and it's almost 2020. We should be writing a comprehensive plan for the next twenty years. And, I thought five year updates were routine. Definitely a city staff oversight.

Hellooo. Moderate posted a blog on wants and needs. About a dozen projects were listed by bloggers. The commissioners should have been on top of this list. How in the world can they discuss a budget without reviewing the commitments? How is it that bloggers can make a list of big ticket projects and the city commissioners did not?

Over the past twenty years, the police department has reported staffing and operations at a 1950's level while the population and demand has significantly increased. We increased positions once, that I can recall. How can this be a surprise to Lawrencians?

Given the dilemma, we should prioritize. I suggest we back-pedal on the sports village, lit tennis courts, and the library. Move forward with roads and the police department. I love our library, but we should modify or delay that project.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 months ago

Lack of long range planning is readily apparent when one considers all of the "high dollar" projects the City has obligated, or those it is considering. It seems like any idea that is "rung up the flagpole" is the darling of the City Commission. Kinda like "the goose that laid the golden egg" or "a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow"

Public library renovation! New Community Performing Arts Building New Police Building Major Sports Expenditures at both High Schools New Sewage Treatment Plant Expenditures at former Farmland Industries Location Expanding Lawrence Art Center/Purchase Salvation Army Building Involvement in new Recreation Center Property Tax Relief for many Projects New Homeless Center Major street and road repairs, due to faulty original design and build.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Does the inflated county assessed value of your home increase your personal wealth? No but it does increase your taxes and increases the cost to live in your home and what for?

So the powers that be can pursue their way to more wealth by way of homeowners subsiding this helter skelter growth aka tax dollar money hole aka over extended tax payers.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence is handing out tax rebates,other tax incentives and increasing taxes at the same time.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

jeesh Merrill, you've made about 5 posts today that I agree with. What's wrong with the world today?

kernal 5 years, 10 months ago

This is what happens when you have city commissioners in bed with developers.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 10 months ago

Can we talk about all the money that was just spent replacing curbs up and down 6th street? Much of which were in fine condition. My tax contributions work like this: if there is a need, spend it. However, Don't Ever go out looking for ways to spend my money.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 10 months ago

Our curbs have been in terrible shape since the 1980's. No repairs. 6th street might have state highway money for maintenance.

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