Pavement markings, like crosswalks and turn lanes, are going to get clearer in Lawrence. The future of a key state tax that helps pay for such street maintenance activities is not.
Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will begin debating City Manager David Corliss’ 2013 recommended city budget. The budget includes both good news and bad news for the ever-popular topic of street maintenance.
On one front, Corliss is pleased to put forward a plan that will help the city more aggressively improve the condition of pavement markings on city streets. Corliss is recommending a 0.07 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate to pay for increased supplies for a recently purchased pavement-marking machine operated by city crews.
But Corliss’ budget also is sounding pessimistic about the future of motor vehicle fuels tax revenues the city annually receives from the state. City leaders over the past two years have been holding out hope that gas taxes revenues would pick back up as the economy improves and motorists start driving more.
Now, city budget-makers are less optimistic that the state gas tax fund will ever rebound, and Corliss’ recommended budget calls for cutting about $500,000 worth of street maintenance activities that previously were funded by the city’s share of the 24 cent per gallon state gasoline tax.
“People are still driving less, but the other factor is people are driving more fuel-efficient cars,” said Casey Toomay, the city’s budget manager. “Even the people who haven’t cut back on their driving aren’t using as much gas.
“We don’t see any of that changing. We think this is a long-term revenue problem at this point.”
As a result, the recommended city budget cuts the line item for general street maintenance from $5.6 million in 2012 to $4.9 million in 2013. The $4.9 million is still more than the about $4 million a year the city was spending for street maintenance prior to voters approving a new 0.3 percent sales tax for infrastructure projects.
The reduction also continues a trend. In 2011, the city’s line item for street maintenance was $6.05 million.
Mark Thiel, assistant director of public works, said the proposed reduction will mean the city will have to scale back its contracts for street repavings and other similar projects.
But Thiel thinks Lawrence is still in a better position than many other communities who rely solely on gas tax revenues to fund street maintenance. Since 2009, the city also has been using sales tax money from the voter-approved infrastructure sales tax.
The sales tax, Thiel said, is providing about $1.5 million in general street maintenance. In addition, the sales tax also is providing funding for multiyear program to rebuild major streets in the city such as Kasold, Iowa, Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
“We don’t have all our eggs in one basket anymore,” Thiel said.
Corliss’ budget calls for a slight property tax increase to help fund the city’s efforts to improve pavement markings in the city.
The proposed 0.07 mill increase would add about $50,000 to the city’s pavement marking program, which currently has a budget of about $15,000, Thiel said.
He said motorists and pedestrians have expressed concerns about faded pavement markings. The city this spring purchased a pavement marking machine that city crews can use. Thiel said the machine is capable of painting anything from center lines to crosswalks.
Thiel said his crews currently are doing a complete inventory of all crosswalks in the city and will try to repaint many of them before the new school year begins. But Thiel said it will take some time before the city gets caught up on the pavement marking program.
“We’re still in the first step right now,” Thiel said. “We have the machine, which will allow us to do some work in-house that we couldn’t before. But it is still going to take us a couple of years to get a handle on it.”
City commissioners are scheduled to talk about budget issues at a 4 p.m. study session Tuesday at City Hall.