Archive for Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lawrence City Commission votes to increase property taxes, fund police headquarters

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

August 2, 2017, 12:12 a.m. Updated August 3, 2017, 5:44 p.m.

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday passed a budget that includes a property tax increase, a utility rate increase and $17 million toward a new police headquarters.

Commissioners at their meeting approved an approximately $255 million budget for 2018 that increases the property tax rate by 1.25 mills. The property increase will cost the owner of a $175,000 home an additional $25 annually in city property taxes.

Though commissioners combed the operating budget and $60 million of capital improvement projects for potential reductions, they ultimately passed the budget as recommended.

“It’s tough to do the 1.25, but frankly I think that’s our responsibility,” Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said. “We need to take care of the issues that face the community, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”

Mayor Leslie Soden was the only commissioner to vote against the budget. She said she wasn’t voting against the police headquarters, but instead wanted to indicate that she thinks the city needs to better prioritize spending and projects among departments so that a property tax rate increase isn’t required.

“To me, there is not appropriate prioritization that’s being done with this budget,” Soden said. “I get very frustrated when I go through the long list of projects.”

In addition to the mill levy increase, the budget includes increases in utility rates and assumes the renewal of the 0.55 percent citywide sales tax. The mill levy increase will enable debt financing for $17 million for the first phase of a new headquarters for the Lawrence Police Department. The police currently work out of multiple buildings that the department says are inadequate.

The multi-phase, multi-year plan will create a law enforcement campus that would allow city police to potentially co-locate with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to save costs. However, City Manager Tom Markus informed the commission that although Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug is supportive of the idea, he said the county’s needs for facility expansion are likely much further into the future than the city’s.

Voters rejected a proposal to use sales tax to fund a police headquarters in 2014. City leaders have emphasized the differences between that proposal and the current one. In addition calling for a phased approach and the use of property taxes, the current proposal does not require the city to purchase land. The city is proposing building the headquarters on a site it already owns.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said the police department’s facilities are “woefully inadequate,” and described cramped conditions in the evidence, evidence processing and weapons storage rooms. She noted that she didn’t agree with using sales tax or purchasing land for a headquarters, but that a ranking system included in the city's priority-based budgeting process indicates the police facility is a top priority.

“When something ranks that high, I think we would be remiss not to address that,” Larsen said.

Utility rates will increase for water, trash, sewer and stormwater services. Combined, the changes will add about $65 annually to residents’ bills.

City staff said the utility increases will go toward infrastructure repair, compliance with stricter water quality regulations and the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. Larsen said the city has to keep up with costs or else residents will get slammed with a huge increase in the future.

“We’ve got to incrementally keep up with what the cost is,” Larsen said.

The budget also calls for the elimination of 11 positions, all of which are now vacant following the recent resignation of the city auditor, Michael Eglinski, on July 14. Combined, elimination of the 11 positions will save the city about $630,000 in 2018.

Part of the context of the city’s budget is that Douglas County and the Lawrence school district are also planning tax increases for next year. As it stands, the county’s budget includes a 1.9-mill increase in the property tax rate. Lawrence voters also approved an $87 million bond issue for school improvements that is expected to raise the district’s property tax rate by about 2.4 mills.

Commissioners are scheduled to give final approval to the budget at their meeting Aug. 8. The county and school district will approve their budgets in coming weeks.


In other business, the commission:

• Voted unanimously to approve VanTrust Real Estate’s application to the city’s Catalyst incentive program. As part of the program, the real estate company will receive city tax abatements, free land and industrial revenue bonds to construct up to $31 million of speculative industrial buildings at Lawrence VenturePark.

• Voted unanimously to defer a decision regarding the site plan for the former Jayhawk Bookstore, 1420 Crescent Road. In April, a Kansas City company filed plans to open a bakery and restaurant, McClain’s Market, in the building. A few members of the public were concerned about the restaurant’s ability to sell alcohol, and commissioners deferred the decision until Aug. 15.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, an explanation of Commissioner Lisa Larsen's opinion regarding the new police headquarters incorrectly referenced a public survey. Larsen's reference was to a ranking system that is part of the city's priority-based budgeting process. The ranking system allows the city manager and program managers to evaluate and assign priorities to projects.

Comments

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I am pleased that the need for a new police headquarters has been addressed. I am also pleased that some where in the future should our Sheriff's Office need to expand, that this has been considered as well. Topeka has a dual law enforcement center, which contains 911 dispatchers, and this has worked out very well.

Zach Davis 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Charles with everything political aside I wanted to say thank you for your bravery and service at the Frank Carlson Building 20+ years ago. I wish more officers had even an ounce now days of the dedication and honor you shown in your career.

Joe Shelton 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Is this new police headquarters going to take the place of one of the two current police facilities? Or will it be in addition to them? I personally find it very frustrating that the Commission would even consider this subject without bringing it to the voters. Smart play on their part. Putting the police facility on the ballot would invite the possibility of the voters saying no...again. Let us not forget that this very same issue was on the ballot three years ago. We said no. And yes, I can hear the supporters already: "But, its not the same as the earlier proposal. This one's different." Let me tell them something: No, it is not. At the most basic level, the proposals are the same. Taxes go up, and LPD gets a brand new shiny facility. I have no problem with the police department getting a new facility, but not this way. Don't ask the taxpayers' permission, be told no, and then do it anyway. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. Put it on the ballot. If we say no, try again later. Keep trying until we say yes.

Bill Turner 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Voter permission was required in the previous proposal because it was a sales tax increase. The previous commission didn't ask for voter approval because they wanted to, they asked because they had to if they didn't want to be responsible for voting for a tax increase themselves (and they expected approval on the measure). Increases in property taxes are not ballot initiatives, they are performed under the purview of the city commission. There was an opportunity to vote on this in the last election: you had the opportunity to vote for representatives to make these decisions for you (these commissioners are not the same ones who put the previous measure on the ballot). If you are unhappy with the decisions being made, you should have voted for different candidates or run for office yourself. If you voted differently and you lost, then you are simply being subjected to the will of the majority. You will have the opportunity to vote for other candidates in November.

Joe Shelton 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you Bill for highlighting my point. Regardless of who sits on the Commission at the moment, all of them are aware that the police facility was on the ballot three years ago. You are correct in why it was on the ballot. Sales tax increase needs to have voter approval, while property tax increase does not. The fact is this Commission decided to go with the option that excludes the public voice. It feels almost as if they knew it would fail again if was left up the public, so they decided to leave us out. So now, even though we said no, they are doing it anyway. As far as the electoral process goes, I have a degree in Political Science. I am well aware of how the system works. I know that I am subject to the will of the majority, but so are the Commissioners. The majority of voters said that we did NOT want to fund a new police facility. I understand that property tax increases are the prerogative of the city commission. But to raise taxes to pay for something that the public has already said that we do not want to pay for seems kind of underhanded.

Theodore Calvin 3 months, 2 weeks ago

All I know is my current residence doesn't fulfill all of my needs. I also know my budget does not allow me to buy a residence that does. Police Department/City Commission, meet real world. We already said no. I want a pool so I don't have to drive 10 minutes to one, buttttt.....

Scott Callahan 3 months, 2 weeks ago

$17 million? Are you kidding me. It could be done for one tenth of that. What the hell happened to this town? The place I love best is a sweet memory.....

David Holroyd 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Mr. Bloss, do you live in Lawrence ? Or Lecompton? Did you work in Douglas County?

Would you mind paying my share of the increase since you will not be paying any!

Steve Dieker 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you Mayor Soden for going against the grain and speaking up that there needs to be accountability and the need for working with current budgets. Too many in government feel that the only answer is to raise taxes and spend more.

Barbara Johnston 3 months, 2 weeks ago

What happened to the plan for the crisis center, so that unnecessary imprisonment could be avoided. That would certainly benefit the community.

Shane Powers 3 months, 2 weeks ago

As a renter, I'm not affected by the mill levy increase. If I did own a home, I wouldn't be too enthused about our commission pushing through a budget that includes a facility that was recently voted against by the community. I AM, however, affected by the utility increase and I'm not too enthused about that either. My water bill is already too high for the amount of water I consume. I get a bill every month that's $50-$60 and usually includes about $7 of water usage. In my apartment complex, 3 buildings of 8 units each share ONE single-family recycling bin and we all pay the same amount for trash pick up as a single family home. 24 units with 3 dumpsters in a cluster is not the same as an entire city block of single family homes.

I also remember seeing an insert in my water bill about a "livability survey" or similar in the last year or so. As I recall, Lawrence scored quite low in a category that basically equated to "caring about low income families." Raising the city bill by $5 a month is a continuation of this trend that disproportionately affects those of lower income.

Theodore Calvin 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Shane, you are affected by the mill levy increase. Do you think your landlord will just cover the difference and not pass it along to you in the form of higher rent? Your landlord must like you.

Shane Powers 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Maybe, maybe not. My landlord owns thousands of rental units in town, so they don't know me from Adam and definitely don't like me. I understand your point, and it's probably accurate, but the rental market is a little more complex than that. The market can only bear so much, this isn't NYC and my little 2 bedroom hovel isn't worth any more than I'm currently paying for it.

Brent Atwater 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Shane you would like to think you're not affected by the mill levy increase, but that isn't true. Wait until you try getting a new lease whether at your current location or somewhere new. The increased property tax money the owner has to pay with the mill levy increase will be passed on to you and all other residents.

Sam Crow 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Andy Taylor and Barney Fife would be proud of the current police facilities in Lawrence.

They are reminiscent of a bygone era.

Today’s police departments have different needs than those of 30 years ago. Just the technology and security issues alone require new facilities. And, it is impossible to retrofit an empty building from a closed store to a modern day police headquarters. This isn’t a deli going into what was a pizza shop.

The Department of Justice report on 21st Century Policing projects what a modern day police department should look like. It has to have the proper facilities to function properly.

Lawrence needs to look at what the police facilities are in the cities that it wants to emulate.

As much as some of you want to live in small town Mayberry where nothing ever changes, others of us want to live in a vibrant growing community operating in this century.

Bob Smith 3 months, 2 weeks ago

More money, more money, more money. Same song every time.

Francis Hunt 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Gardner voters approved $13.75 million for their new justice center yesterday. Yes, the little town of Gardner, $13.75 million, congratulations to them!

Charles and Sam you two get it, the rest of the comments above are typical and laughable. If you all knew even half of what you think you know somebody might take you seriously but the more you talk the more you show just how little you actually know. That is exactly why we elect people, so they can work to understand ALL of the needs of the community and make difficult (not popular) decisions. Thank you to this commission for having the courage and conviction to take care of business. If left to the emotional/uninformed/police-hating/conspiracy theorists in this city we wouldn't even have police.

Scott Quenette 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not going to rub it in too often but I'm sitting here giggling about this from 700 miles away. There are some things I'll miss about Lawrence, the profligacy of the city commission is not one of them.

Greg DiVilbiss 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I will be paying very close attention to candidates views on tax increases in the upcoming election. You might say it is my litmus test.

Bob Summers 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Why on Earth does the government demand more money for a larger police station? The government demands more money to inculcate the people at a young age to seek safe spaces. The government opened the border to "future Americans" and demands money to give them food, housing, medical care and sanctuary from the law.

What kind of human does this? What kind of human demands more money for a disaster they created then chastise those for not paying up to fix the results of their behavior?

Why on Earth do they need more police buildings? This sounds like a ponzi scheme the people in government are running. They create havoc and demand more money to manage the society they have created.

Brent Atwater 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I am not happy with this budget and lack of leadership of foresight or prioritization of projects. I believe the City Commission needs a Project Manager (and reinstate the City Auditor position) to keep them in check and make rational and informed decisions.

Going to the Police Station issue, as I discussed with a couple friends that are LPD I told them I voted against the measure previously because I thought the location and the cost were irresponsible. (I mean how much crime is at Hallmark, how long would it take during a shift change to get to Corpus Christi church area or O'Connell and 31st for that matter?)

That said with the Police Station, do I believe something needs to be done? Yes. However, as I stated with the budget prioritization I believe their vision of how it should proceed. First, if I remember correctly, the current station at 111 E 11th is owned and maintained by the DGCO. If that is still the case then it is their responsibility to repair and upgrade that facility first and foremost. I am a big proponent of satellite police stations and if I remember correctly there is city owned land near Fire Stations 2, 4 and 5 that could be used as well as actually use the old Fire Station 4 in the stone barn for a satellite station. So that may not fulfill the needs for document storage (work with the state regarding digitization standards) or a potential replacement for the LPD facility at 15th St (Bob Billings) and Wakarusa.

In other words I want to see transparency for ALL plans being funded on this budget by the City Commission.

Carol Bowen 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Satellite police stations were discussed and ruled out. As a protecting emergency service, a centralized location is more effective. For example, preparing for a hearing or a court case would require gathering officers, evidence, and records from various locations, if we had decentralized stations. That would be time consuming and a coordination problem. Fire stations, on the other hand, do not require frequent and centralized coordination.

Carol Bowen 3 months, 2 weeks ago

If I had had an opportunity to vote on the Rock Chalk rec center, I would have voted No. I'm glad the center is experiencing some success, but the police department facilities had already needed improvement for years. I felt that we should have voted on the rec center, and the police department should have been a given, just like the wastewater treatment plant.

The police department has not kept pace with the city's population growth. We are experiencing problems because of our proximity to Topeka and K.C. Like infrastructure, we should pay attention to the police department's ability to function effectively. The department cannot continue like it is much longer.

Richard Heckler 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Projects such as Rock Chalk Park should have been subjected to taxpayers having the last word.

Perhaps we taxpayers should consider less of locking people behind bars and more use of corrective custody type situations such as the house arrest system with work release privileges.

Of course violent offenders might not make the cut.

Jeremy Smith 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Taxpayers do get the last word. Remember Herbert and Larsen can be kicked out in November.

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