City Commission to discuss how it wants to spend millions in sales tax revenue

City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will discuss how they want the city to be using its approximately $10.5 million portion of the countywide sales tax for the remainder of the year.

Commissioner Stuart Boley pushed for the discussion, asking on two occasions — first Feb. 16 and again March 1 — that it be scheduled in order to update the priorities for the 22-year-old fund. The 1 percent sales tax, approved in 1994, has primarily been used for the operation of Parks and Recreation Department facilities and activities.

“Lawrence has changed; it’s a different place than we were in 1994,” Boley said. “It’s important, in my opinion, to listen to the voices and priorities of people paying the tax today.”

When Douglas County voters approved a 1-percent sales tax in 1994, they were told the fund would be used for Parks and Recreation facilities; facility improvements for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department; and to lower property taxes.

Bryan Kidney, the city’s finance director, explained in a city memo that the sales tax reserve fund is a spending plan, not an adopted budget.

Past city commissions have directed the city to use it primarily for Parks and Recreation, Kidney wrote.

Boley pointed out that attached to the sales tax proposal was a provision that the money could be used by the city for “general governmental purposes” not limited to Parks and Recreation, health facilities or property tax reduction.

“All kinds of people have moved in, have left, have grown up. What about their priorities?” Boley said. “They did the right thing and wisely put in flexibility in the ballot language. We have an obligation to address the priorities of the people who are paying the tax. It seems very simple to me.”

After spending $4,368,418 to reduce property tax, portions of the fund were used in 2015 to pay for Parks and Recreation building maintenance and debt payments for Eagle Bend Golf Course, the community health facility and Sports Pavilion Lawrence.

Kidney is recommending the city continue to use the fund primarily for Parks and Recreation.

“Other major commitments of the sales tax to other uses would put stress on the Parks and Recreation growth, operation and maintenance system,” Kidney said. “The first round of major projects funded with this tax are now 20-plus years old and in need of ‘second generation’ funding for major renovations.”

Kidney referred to the ongoing process of reviewing the Parks and Recreation master plan — a review likely to result in a list of improvement projects that will need future funding.

But Boley listed the City Commission’s stated priorities for 2016, saying those issues, especially affordable housing, needed to be addressed through the sales tax reserves. The commission’s other stated priorities are: economic development, public safety, mental health and infrastructure, transit and nonmotorized transportation.

If commissioners do want to make changes to how the fund is used, Kidney asks via his memo that adjustments are done during 2017 budget talks.

Because expenditures from the sales tax reserve fund were put on hold until the commission’s discussion, commissioners will be asked Tuesday to vote on bids for two HVAC systems and the Baldwin Creek Trail Project.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

In other business, commissioners will:

• Make a preliminary decision on what should be added to the performance agreement with developers of the under-construction HERE @ Kansas apartment and retail development at 1101 and 1115 Indiana streets.

The conditions that could be added to the agreement include, among other things: requiring valets to man the parking garage at the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week; prohibiting access to the parking garage from 11th Street; requiring on-street parking to be used only for commercial space in the development; and requiring as much of the commercial space as possible be filled by the time the development opens this fall.

The agreement would also include the development secure by December all of the parking required to fill all of the development’s retail and apartment space. Currently, it’s approximately 100 spaces short.

If developers weren’t to meet those conditions, they would not be eligible to receive the tax abatement that’s established in their agreement with the city.

The City Commission will be asked to direct the staff on specific changes to make to the agreement. The changes will be drafted, and then come back to commissioners for final approval.

• Consider whether to support a design for the west leg of Kansas Highway 10 proposed by Frank Male, owner of Lawrence Landscape.

Male was among the approximately 20 people who spoke in February against the Kansas Department of Transportation’s plan to close access to East 1200 Road/Kasold Drive from K-10. KDOT officials want to close the intersection by November because of increased traffic volumes and safety concerns when the South Lawrence Trafficway opens.

Male, whose nursery business is south of the intersection, is asking for a short-term solution of installing a temporary traffic light at the intersection that would stop traffic on the highway only when vehicles are waiting on the side streets. His long-term solution is to construct a Kasold Drive interchange when the western leg of K-10 is expanded.

Douglas County commissioners voted March 23 to support the traffic light and the maintained access to Kasold Drive.

City staff is recommending city commissioners send the request to Lawrence’s Metropolitan Planning Organization for review.

• Vote on spending $35,000 to build a bunker for de-icing salt. The salt is currently kept at a bulk warehouse at VenturePark. The warehouse was given to Menard Inc. in an incentives package for the company’s new production plant at the site.