When it comes to putting a damper on City Hall spending, ideas from Lawrence City Commission candidates range from slashing the proposed $25 million recreation center to creating a new citizens task force.
Residents at a candidate forum hosted by the North Lawrence Improvement Association on Monday quizzed the field of six City Commission candidates on how they would deal with future budget shortfalls, if any arise.
At least two candidates used the issue to jump back to the proposed $25 million recreation center in northwest Lawrence.
Leslie Soden said she’s concerned the estimated $1 million operating budget of the proposed center will become a drain on the city’s budget. She said the city should look for ways to make the proposed 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym center smaller.
“I think we should cut that building in half,” Soden said. “We would have room to expand after we see some real numbers, not speculative numbers.”
Scott Criqui also said he would consider recreation funding as an area to cut when trying to deal with a future budget shortfall, although he stopped short of talking about the recreation center specifically.
Instead, he — like all the candidates — said he would work first to protect core services such as police, fire, street maintenance and other such services.
“I don’t think recreation is one of those core services,” Criqui said.
City Commission General Election Candidates
Links to profiles of the six remaining Lawrence City Commission candidates in the April 2 General Election
Ideas on budget cutting from other candidates varied.
Jeremy Farmer said he was impressed with the task force the Lawrence public school district assembled to study the issue of school consolidation. He said the city may want to think about creating a new standing committee that could help with ideas on how to control city budgets during tight times.
“As a community, we have really smart people,” Farmer said. “That’s not to say that staff wouldn’t make good recommendations and commissioners wouldn’t have good ideas, but I think we really learn a lot when we listen to the community.”
Terry Riordan said the city hopefully had learned from its past practice of cutting street maintenance funding when budgets got tight. He said residents would be in a better position to make recommendations to the city on spending matters if the city’s budget were easier to understand.
“The general person should be able to read the city’s budget and say ‘that’s not right,’” Riordan said.
Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the field, said he would avoid across-the-board budget cuts and would look for ways to trim administrative costs before cutting into services.
“This time I probably would start at the city manager’s office,” Amyx said. “You start at the top and go down from there.”
Rob Chestnut said better long-range capital improvement plans would give the city more comfort about future city budgets. He also said it is important to periodically review the effectiveness of all city programs.
“Something that was a good initiative six or seven years ago may not be serving the community well now,” Chestnut said. “There are programs out there that don’t add the value they once did.”
Voters in the April 2 general election will choose three candidates from the field. Voters in the lightly attended Feb. 26 primary election narrowed the field to six. Amyx, a city commissioner and downtown barber shop owner, finished in the top spot. He was followed by: Farmer, the chief executive of the food bank Just Food; Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician; Chestnut, a former city commissioner and a chief financial officer of a private company; Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s nonprofit Trinity In-Home Care; and Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business.