Archive for Tuesday, May 20, 2014

City commission to study possibility of November election for police headquarters project

May 20, 2014


A citywide election to create a new sales tax to fund a police headquarters building — and perhaps new trails, sidewalks and other "quality of life" projects — may be on the way in November.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday had their most serious discussion yet about authorizing a November sales tax election, with some commissioners saying the sense of urgency for a police headquarters building is growing.

"I've said it before, but we have to beat every other issue off with a stick," City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said.

At a Tuesday evening study session, commissioners received a rough idea of how large of a tax increase may be needed for a police headquarters building. One estimate prepared by city staff showed it would take a 0.2 percent sales tax to pay for a $30 million police headquarters building. The tax would need to be in place for about 15 years, at a minimum. Other estimates showed a 0.5 percent sales tax would pay for the facility in about 7 years, and a 1 percent sales tax would pay for it in about 4 years.

But commissioners stopped well short of an endorsing a $30 million price tag for a new police headquarters facility.

"I want to build a police facility that is good and has a benefit, but hopefully it will cost less than $30 million," Commissioner Terry Riordan said.

Commissioners took no action to put a sales tax election on the ballot, but they agreed to have a study session to review proposed plans for a headquarters facility and possible tax increases to pay for it.

"If we're talking about a November election, we need to have some significant discussions in June," City Manager David Corliss said.

For many years, Police Department leaders have stressed the need for a new headquarters facility. Currently the department is split between the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center at 11th and Massachusetts streets and a facility near Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive in west Lawrence. The police also operate out of several smaller facilities for parking control, evidence storage and other smaller departments.

Farmer said he is resigned that the only way the headquarters project will move forward is through a citywide election for a sales tax increase. Farmer said he is willing to move forward with a sales tax and a citywide election, but he would rather the city examine its authority to raise property taxes to pay for the project without an election. The city has estimated it would take about a three mill property tax increase — which would stay on the books for at least 20 years — to pay for the project.

Commissioner Bob Schumm said he would much prefer a sales tax to pay for the project because a sales tax would ensure that visitors to the community would help pay for the police services that they use.

Farmer said he is hesitant about a citywide election because he thinks it would "set a dangerous precedent by putting public safety items to a public vote." He said he also has concerns about the impact sales taxes have on people who are in poverty.

But Farmer said if a sales tax vote moves ahead, he wants to explore making the sales tax large enough to pay for quality of life initiatives, such as sidewalks, trails and other such projects as determined by the public. Farmer even mentioned the possibility of creating a new city department to oversee "community livability" issues.

But Farmer said he didn't yet have an estimate of how large of a sales tax should be devoted to quality of life initiatives.


Richard Heckler 4 years ago

How will a new police department deter crime? It won't. Very long term good paying jobs might.

Make 15th and Wakarusa work…. I say.

The more Lawrence grows out and around the more the crime rate will continue to grow. There are plenty of cities that can document this.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

The city has estimated it would take about a three mill property tax increase — which would stay on the books for at least 20 years — to pay for the project.

This increase will never go away.

Derek Eastland 4 years ago

Farmer thinks it would "set a dangerous precedent by putting public safety items to a public vote." What? Where is the logic in that? If the public shouldn't be in charge of deciding their own safety, who should? Farmer?

Farmer said he also has concerns about the impact sales taxes have on people who are in poverty. Farmer wants you to think he is concerned about the poor, but the reality is, he either isn't concerned at all or he doesn't know how businesses run. Considering he currently runs a business, I can only assume the former. If we assume a majority of poor people are renters, a property tax increase is not going to protect those in poverty. Landlords will simply pass the property tax increase on to the tenants. That's how businesses work. He also demonstrated his lack of concern for the poor when he voted to pass the rental registration ordinance. Again, any costs involved with that will be passed on to the renters.

Jonathan Fox 4 years ago

Do sales taxes ever go down? I have never seen it because the city usually keeps the increase and finds another project to spend it on. We need to wait and pay off some of the other big projects in town (public library maybe) and pass that increase on to this project not increase taxes that never go back down even further. This city is already the most expensive cost of living in the state but a substantial margin. If we're going to be concerned about the poor, pass this project on until we can afford it. This project should have come before a new public library anyway.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years ago

I can assure you it is not only poor people that rent. It is not only KU students that rent. My first concern is for a law enforcement center that would serve the needs of Lawrence and Douglas County. It would have all that is needed in the way of offices, interrogation spaces and technology as well as training facilities such as an indoor shooting range.

Derek Eastland 4 years ago

I think you may have misread my post. I did not say that all renters are poor. I said a majority of poor, rent. There is a difference there. And please note, I have no data supporting this claim, i'm merely using Farmer's own logic to point out the flaws in it.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

Most policing takes place on the street. Money is best spent on vehicles, equipment, training, and decent salaries. While a brand new police station might be nice, I surmise it would have little to no impact on the ablility of officers to get the job done right.

Wayne Kerr 4 years ago

I agree Bob, a fancy new building isn't going to do much to deter crime. I think our money would be better spent on equipment, training, and salaries, too.

And Richard, you're right, as the city grows we are going to see more crime, more traffic, less parking, and a greater strain on all city services. That's why all these new hotels, apartments, etc., shouldn't be allowed to have twenty year property tax abatements. Because of all this "tax abated" growth, we'll all see twenty years of tax increases to make up for the millions of dollars local developers are being allowed to skip out on paying to the city.

John Graham 4 years ago

Maybe the city commission should have considered the "needs" of the city before spending money on "wants" such as Rock Chalk Park, ice skating rink, walking trails etc. The commission has spent money on "wants" like a drunken sailor on leave, now the "needs" are going to require a tax increase. That $25M spent on Rock Chalk would have just about paid for the proposed new police building. Maybe the commission should be held accountable for not prioritizing the city budget in a more thoughtful manner.

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