Employee totals and the city’s property tax rate would both grow under City Manager David Corliss’ recommended 2014 budget.
Corliss on Thursday afternoon recommended a 0.4 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate and proposed a budget that would add 19 new full-time employees, with the bulk of them located at the city’s $25 million recreation center.
The budget also calls for water and sewer bills to increase by about 5 percent in 2014.
Commissioners will spend much of July debating the budget, and are expected to give final approval to the spending plan by early August.
Corliss said the $184 million budget is making a strong statement about the future prospects of the community.
“We have laid the groundwork for a lot of solid growth and additional amenities for the community,” Corliss said.
The 19 new city employees would represent the largest workforce increase at City Hall in recent memory. Over the last three years, full-time employee growth averaged about three positions per year, and actually declined some in prior years.
But Corliss said the commission’s decision to add several new programs over the last year has made additional hiring tough to avoid.
“We’re expanding a number of programs that the City Commission has desired to implement,” Corliss said.
The $25 million Rock Chalk Park recreation center is creating the largest need for new employees. The recommended budget calls for nine new full-time employees to do everything from staff the front desks to maintaining the facility to programing the classes and tournaments at the center.
The budget also call for five new employees to staff an expanded rental registration program, four new employees in the water and sewer utility department, and one new employee related to the city’s curbside recycling program that will begin in late 2014.
As for the property tax rate increase, the largest part of it will be used to pay the city’s share of four more dispatchers for the city-county 911 emergency management center. The city will contribute $130,000 to add the four new employees, which aren’t counted in the city’s workforce total because they are supervised by the county.
Corliss also is recommending the tax increase be used to fund $80,000 in new public works equipment, $80,000 for a City Hall phone system upgrade, $30,000 for additional police overtime costs, and $20,000 for capital and operational expenses at the Lawrence Arts Center.
The 0.4 mill increase will raise the property tax bills on a $200,000 home by $9.20. The increase would mark the third straight year the city has increased it tax rate, including once when voters agreed to raise the rate to fund an expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.
This year, commissioners spent much of the year working on a deal to build the $25 million Rock Chalk Park recreation center without raising taxes. Commissioners chose to use recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to fund the recreation center rather than using the dollars to fund the other operational needs outlined in Corliss’ budget.
Corliss’ recommended budget will leave some tough decisions for commissioners. Corliss’ recommended budget does not include $200,000 needed to provided additional security at City Hall or the city’s Municipal Court building. The extra security measures — metal detectors staffed by security officers — likely will have to be put in place in order for the city to exempt itself from a new state law that allows concealed carry permit holders to bring guns into public buildings.
Corliss said commissioners will need to decide whether to add that $200,000 expense to the budget, or it is likely that concealed carry permit holders will be allowed to bring their weapons into City Hall and Municipal Court in 2014.
Other facts about the proposed budget include:
• $184.2 million in spending is about $10.3 million more than the city is budgeted to spend in 2013.
• The budget technically is anticipated to dip into the city’s general fund balance — a type of savings account for the city — to the tune of about $1.7 million. But Corliss said he does not anticipate such deficit spending actually will occur. The city has budgeted such deficits in the past, but then has reduced spending totals toward the end of a budget year to match expenses with revenues. The city has about $13 million in its general fund balance account.