It has been a year of big projects at Lawrence City Hall but one that hasn’t stretched the city’s checkbook, outgoing Mayor Bob Schumm said in his State of the City address Tuesday.
“I want to reiterate that the city of Lawrence has a strong financial ability to carry out and fund projects that other cities cannot,” Schumm said. “Our city has saved and invested over many years to create reserves that place us in a financially secure position.”
Schumm on Tuesday ended his one-year term as mayor — he’ll stay on the governing body as a commissioner. As expected, Vice-Mayor Mike Dever unanimously was elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as mayor. Tradition at Lawrence City Hall holds that the vice-mayor will be elevated to the mayoral position.
Also sticking with tradition, Commissioner Mike Amyx — a downtown barbershop owner who was the top vote winner in this month’s citywide election — was elected as vice-mayor. That puts the five-term commissioner in line to serve as mayor in 2014.
Newly-elected commissioners Jeremy Farmer, the director of a local food bank, and Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, were sworn into their terms on the commission. Aron Cromwell and Hugh Carter both left the commission after neither sought re-election during the recent election.
On a night mainly filled with ceremony and reflection, commissioners looked back on a year that included votes to move ahead on a $25 million recreation center, a $64 million sewage treatment plant, construction work on a $19 million library expansion, and creation of a new citywide curbside recycling program that will begin next year.
Schumm said he knows that the past 12 months have been “filled with questions about the city’s capacity” to fund the host of projects. But he pointed to the city’s continued high bond rating — Aa1 — and that the city’s various accounts routinely have about $120 million in cash and investments, “which puts the city in good shape to embark on some very exciting and necessary projects.”
Several of the recently approved projects also have come with either tax or fee increases. Voters approved a property tax increase to fund the library, and commissioners approved sewer rate increases to fund the sewage treatment plant, and trash rate increases to fund the curbside recycling program.
Dever — an owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm — has said he isn’t planning on initiating a number of new projects during his term as mayor but rather will focus on following through on the projects that are underway.
On Tuesday, he said that would keep him plenty busy.
“We’ve accomplished goals that I really didn’t think we could get done in the time period we had,” Dever said. “This commission has worked so well together. I think the main reason is because we all have the best interests of the city in mind and have no one special group to cater to.”