When Lawrence city officials announced an estimate of $30 million to build a new police headquarters facility, the number likely shocked a few members of the public.
That’s understandable. After all, roughly 18 months earlier, the community had spent considerable time discussing the city’s finances as part of an $18 million bond issue to expand the Lawrence Public Library. Throughout that campaign, there was never any mention of how an $18 million library expansion would make it more difficult for the city to complete a $30 million police headquarters.
It would be unfair to say city leaders tried to hide the $30 million police facility from voters. The need for a new police headquarters building has been discussed off and on for several years at Lawrence City Hall. But the $30 million price tag did not come out until well after the library bond was approved, and city leaders did a poor job of connecting the dots for voters about how one project could affect the other.
In fact, it is safe to say the need for a new police headquarters likely was not on the minds of most voters when they cast their votes on the library expansion project.
That’s partly because the city doesn’t do a very good job of communicating its big-ticket needs to the public. For several years now, the city has not compiled a five-year capital improvements plan. The plan simply is a list of major building projects and other capital improvements the city expects to undertake during the next five years.
In fairness, the city does have several smaller plans that provide details for specific areas of the city budget, such as a 10-year plan for projects funded by the city’s infrastructure sales tax, and a multiyear plan for water and sewer projects.
But one list that encompasses the entire city would be helpful to both elected officials and voters. The city auditor, in a report late last year, formally recommended that the city create a five-year capital improvements plan. City Manager David Corliss’ office is working on that now, and the plan likely will be presented to commissioners in August.
Hopefully the plan will be a simple way for both elected officials and residents to see at a glance the city’s most pressing building and capital improvement needs and rough cost estimates for each.
The city of Lawrence is fortunate to have talented leadership in City Hall that has managed the city’s finances well during these tough economic times. The city’s financial condition is much better than many cities across the state and nation.
However, the city is entering a period where it will consider several high-dollar projects — a regional recreation complex, the police headquarters and a $54 million sewage treatment plant, to name just three. It could be an extremely exciting time for our community, but it will require us to make the best decisions possible about how to spend our limited resources.
Better long-range planning will help us all to understand our choices and will be a key step in making this upcoming period of the city’s history exciting rather than draining.