Archive for Monday, May 14, 2012

Lawrence city commissioners to start crafting 2013 budget

May 14, 2012


Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will start crafting a 2013 budget by getting a reminder about basic check book management — you should have more revenue coming in than expenses going out.

A new report from City Hall shows that almost didn’t happen in 2011. New numbers from the city show the city’s $60 million general fund took in just $9,500 more in revenue than it shelled out in expenses in 2011.

What’s more, the year-end report found expenses in 2011 grew by 3.1 percent while revenues grew by just 2.8 percent.

When commissioners gather for a 4 p.m. budget study session on Tuesday, staff members will be looking for commission direction on how to reverse that trend.

“The way we are framing it is we realize our expenditures are growing at a faster rate than our revenues, and we know that is not sustainable,” said Casey Toomay, budget manager for the city.

The numbers put into perspective the key question city commissioners likely will grapple with this budget session: Can more expenses be cut without sacrificing city services, or is it time for the city to increase it revenue through higher taxes and fees?

City commissioners won’t be eager to either cut services or raise taxes. A third option also may emerge: Wait and hope that an economic recovery takes hold by 2013, which could allow the city’s tax collections to grow without an increase in tax rates.

Toomay said the outlook for such a boost in revenue currently is mixed. The city is projecting sales tax revenue to grow by 3.5 percent in 2013. But there are signs thus far that an even larger increase is possible. Through the first quarter of 2012, sales tax collections are up about 4 percent for the year.

But Toomay said the city is forecasting a 1 percent decline in the city’s assessed valuation, meaning the city will be slated to collect less in property taxes in 2013.

As far as further cuts to expenses, Toomay said it is getting more challenging to make cuts that don’t impact service levels, especially as fuel, utilities and health care costs continue to rise at rates far greater than inflation.

“We try to pride ourselves on making cuts in ways that the public doesn’t see them, but that is getting harder,” Toomay said.

Here’s a look at several budget-related issues that will be presented to commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting:

• The city collected $15.45 million in property taxes in 2011, up from $14.97 million 2010. That’s an increase of 3.2 percent. Sales tax revenues increased at an even greater rate. Sales tax collections were up 4.5 percent to $30.83 million.

• The city’s payroll expenses for the general fund — which covers most city employees but not those in utilities, solid waste and other departments largely supported by fees — increased by $987,000 in 2011, or 2.6 percent. The bulk of the increase, though, didn’t go to higher wages but rather funded larger contributions to the pension systems the city participates in.

The city in 2011 saw its pension requirements to KPERS and KP&F; funds increase by about $450,000. Toomay said she’s forecasting a similar increase for 2013. City officials don’t set those contribution levels. Instead cities must pay at the rates established by the public pension funds, if they want to continue to participate in the pension systems.

• Commissioners will be presented with a request to help the county fund about $7 million worth of upgrades to the city-county emergency dispatch center. Toomay said city officials hope to develop a multi-year funding plan for the upgrades, and to better understand how the costs would be split between the city and the county.

• Continued funding of the city-county sustainability coordinator position will be up for consideration as part of the 2013 budget. The position originally was funded through a grant from federal stimulus funds. Once that grant expired the city and county reached a funding agreement that split costs 60 percent from the county and 40 percent from the city. The original agreement has expired, and the city and county will have to determine whether to continue funding the position.

City commissioners will meet throughout the summer to craft the 2013 budget, which is slated to receive final approval in early August.


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