New dispatchers for police and fire operations may be on the way, and so too may be a site for a multimillion dollar police facility. And it all may require a tax increase.
First, though, it likely will create quite a bit of discussion this summer at Lawrence City Hall.
The first budget session of the year for the Lawrence City Commission took on a definite public safety theme Tuesday afternoon.
Newly elected Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he was “embarrassed” by the condition of the police department’s current facilities and said figuring out how to pay for a new facility that could cost more than $20 million needs to be a high priority.
“Anything else that comes before us, we need to beat it off with a stick because this is where we need to spend our next big chunk of change,” Farmer said.
Commissioners at their Tuesday study session didn’t commit to spend the tens of millions of dollars to build a facility, but a majority of commissioners expressed interest in using the next year to identify and possibly purchase a site to house a new police facility.
That would be the largest step yet the commission has taken to build a facility that police department leaders say is badly needed to address space and efficiency challenges the department currently faces by having its major divisions spread out in downtown and West Lawrence facilities.
Last summer staff members estimated it would require anywhere from a 0.25 to 0.35 percent sales tax to fund a new $24 million police headquarters facility and additional staffing. City officials at other times have studied various property tax increase plans to fund the facility.
Newly elected City Commissioner Terry Riordan said he wanted city commissioners to start thinking about what it financially is willing to do to create a new facility.
“I don’t want to raise the mill levy, but one of the things I would raise the mill levy for is public safety,” Riordan said.
Before commissioners get to that discussion, though, they may have to first decide whether to raise property taxes to pay for additional dispatchers at the city and county’s 911 center.
City Manager David Corliss said he was planning to recommend a small property tax increase — probably about 0.1 mill — to pay the city’s share to add four dispatchers to the 911 center.
“The police chief and the fire chief have both told me they rate adding more dispatchers as their highest personnel priorities this year,” Corliss said. “We have added police officers recently, but we have not added dispatchers to keep up.”
A majority of commissioners said they were interested in considering the increase in dispatchers, but they also want to have a broader discussion about how the city and county fund jointly operated facilities, like the dispatch center.
Corliss said he would make his recommendation for increased city funding contingent upon the cities of Baldwin City and Eudora also agreeing to contribute to the dispatch center’s operations. Those two cities currently don’t pay directly for dispatch center operations.
But Corliss said he also wanted to have a larger discussion about consolidation opportunities for city and county functions, although he didn’t mention any specific services.
“In an area of reduced resources, one of the key areas of efficiencies is going to be consolidations,” Corliss said. “We are going to have to discuss that.”
Commissioners on Tuesday made no decisions on 2014 budget issues but rather were at the beginning stage of the process. City Manager Corliss is scheduled to provide his recommended budget by the end of June, and commissioners are set to approve a budget by early August.