Salaries, pensions and health insurance costs at Lawrence City Hall likely are going to require a tax increase in 2015.
Whether an even larger tax increase is needed for the library, economic development efforts, the homeless shelter, sidewalks, a new police headquarters building and a host of other programs is still uncertain.
City commissioners on Tuesday provided little push-back to City Manager David Corliss' analysis that at least a 1.5 mill property tax increase was going to be needed to maintain the city's current level of services.
"It probably will be more than that," City Commissioner Terry Riordan said of a tax increase after receiving a host of budget numbers at a Tuesday afternoon study session. "There are several items we don't have much control over."
Corliss said the amount of money set aside for city salaries is expected to grow by about $500,000 in 2015, or 1.7 percent over projected 2014 totals. State-mandated contributions to the pension programs for city employees is expected to increase by about $527,000. Health insurance costs are expected to increase by about $160,000.
Commissioners were briefed but took little action on several funding requests that will have to be decided prior to the commission adopting a 2015 budget in August. They included:
• $200,000 in funding for a new public works position that would oversee the city's efforts to improve sidewalks, bike lanes and other forms of non-motorized transportation.
Some commissioners did express concern about adding the position. Commissioner Mike Dever said the latest proposal would provide funding to create a new position but would do little to provide funding what has been estimated to be millions of dollars in sidewalk repairs.
"We would be spending $200,000 on a position, but we don't have the money to spend on the changes they want to see," Dever said. "What's the point in that?"
Dever suggested trying to use existing staff members to create a more detailed plan for how the sidewalk issue could be tackled over a period of years.
• A $200,000 increase in funding for the Lawrence Community Shelter. The homeless shelter also is asking for $100,000 in new funding from the Douglas County Commission. According to the application submitted to commissioners, the funding would allow for additional case managers and pay for the additional operating costs related to the larger facility that the shelter is now operating on the eastern edge of Lawrence.
• About $212,000 — or a 5.8 percent increase — in operating funds for the expanded Lawrence Public Library. According to the application, the funding would help the library bring salaries up to 90 percent of those found in peer libraries and would help fund online catalog enhancements and similar improvements.
• $162,500 for the Douglas County Senior Services Center to help promote Lawrence and Douglas County as an attractive destination for retirees. The agency also is asking for $162,500 in funding from Douglas County.
• $600,000 in funding for the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County for the Peaslee Center, a proposed technical education center near 29th Street and Haskell Avenue. The request includes $500,000 for infrastructure and renovations of the existing building and $100,000 for operating costs. The EDC also is requesting similar funding from Douglas County.
Commissioners weren't given an estimate of how large a tax increase would be needed to fund all the projects brought to the commission for consideration. But Mayor Mike Amyx said he thinks competition for new funding will be tight.
"It looks like there is a possibility of a mill levy increase," Amyx said. "But I do think it will be hard to look at a lot of new programs without a dramatic increase in taxes. I know that is not the goal of any of the commissioners."
Not discussed Tuesday, but hanging over the city's budget process, is a proposal for a new police headquarters building that has an estimated cost of $30 million. Commissioners previously have discussed holding a citywide election in November to ask voters to approve a sales tax, property tax or some combination to fund the project.
Riordan said commissioners will have to be careful with how they deal with the multitude of new funding requests, if they intend to ask voters to approve a substantial tax increase for a police headquarters building. A tax increase as part of the 2015 budget process may make approval of a referendum more difficult in November, he said.
"I do worry about that," he said.
In other news, commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting:
• Renewed a special use permit for the Runaway Pony Bed & Breakfast at 603 Tennessee St. Commissioners approved the permit with certain conditions requiring the owner of the property to submit detailed reports about the property's usage. The reports were added as a condition after several neighbors of the Old West Lawrence Neighborhood Association expressed concern that the property was violating some occupancy standards set for bed and breakfast operations. Commissioners said it wasn't clear whether such violations had occurred.