Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2017

Local group wants voters to reject city sales tax that would generate more than $100 million

Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop manager Sara Bilhimer hands a receipt to Nate Penny, of Lawrence, after a purchase on Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the downtown Lawrence store. A city proposal seeks to renew a .55 percent sales tax that applies to all purchases citywide to fund infrastructure, transit and affordable housing. Opponents of the renewal believe it will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop manager Sara Bilhimer hands a receipt to Nate Penny, of Lawrence, after a purchase on Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the downtown Lawrence store. A city proposal seeks to renew a .55 percent sales tax that applies to all purchases citywide to fund infrastructure, transit and affordable housing. Opponents of the renewal believe it will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

July 6, 2017, 1:53 p.m. Updated July 6, 2017, 4:35 p.m.

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For about the past 10 years, each time shoppers in Lawrence have opened their wallets to make a purchase the amount they pay has included an additional charge.

That charge, a .55 percent citywide sales tax, has generated millions annually for the city and will sunset next year unless voters renew it. One local advocacy group, Lawrence Sunset Alliance, is asking residents to vote no on renewal.

“In the past, I think a lot of things in this town have passed because there hasn’t been vocal opposition or at least a discussion about a yes/no and what that means,” LSA treasurer Patrick Wilbur said. “This is a 10-year renewal and repurpose, so we’re committing a lot.”

The Douglas County Libertarians began the opposition group, but Wilbur said they would like to work with a variety of local groups as part of the campaign, which launched Thursday.

If the City Commission follows city staff’s recommendation, the renewal of the additional sales tax will be on the November ballot. If approved, the special tax would be in place from 2019 to 2029 and is projected to generate more than $116 million for city infrastructure, transit and affordable housing.

Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop manager Sara Bilhimer hands a receipt to Nate Penny, of Lawrence, after a purchase on Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the downtown Lawrence store. A city proposal seeks to renew a .55 percent sales tax that applies to all purchases citywide to fund infrastructure, transit and affordable housing. Opponents of the renewal believe it will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop manager Sara Bilhimer hands a receipt to Nate Penny, of Lawrence, after a purchase on Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the downtown Lawrence store. A city proposal seeks to renew a .55 percent sales tax that applies to all purchases citywide to fund infrastructure, transit and affordable housing. Opponents of the renewal believe it will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

In a memo to the commission, city staff state that failure to renew the sales tax would have significant consequences on city operations, as it is the primary funding source for transit and a number of projects in the city’s capital improvement plan. Infrastructure projects include dedicated funding for residential street and curb maintenance, as well as other high-dollar road projects.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said the tax has paid for street maintenance and other infrastructure and that it’s important to renew if the city wants to continue with that level of maintenance.

“I can’t see us not having it and still being able to maintain at the level that we need to,” Larsen said.

Instead of using an extra sales tax, the Lawrence Sunset Alliance proposes that the city look to other funding sources for infrastructure, according to a news release. To address transit funding, suggestions include reducing routes, adjusting fare structures based on route length or charging fares for University of Kansas students traveling off campus. For affordable housing, suggestions include a donation campaign, bringing in more high-paying jobs and reducing regulations or fees to lower construction costs.

Wilbur said the main message of the opposition campaign is that sales tax is regressive, meaning that unlike property taxes, it disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.

“We’re basically putting the burden on lower-income people for these services,” Wilbur said. “These are all services that we could fund through the general fund if we wanted to.”

Currently, the .55 percent sales tax breaks down as follows: .3 percent for infrastructure, .2 percent for transit and .05 percent for expanded transit service. Under the upcoming sales tax renewal proposal, the .05 percent would be repurposed to fund the city’s affordable housing trust fund. If not renewed by Lawrence voters, the taxes will sunset in March 2019.

Larsen said there is no way around the fact that sales tax is regressive, but that the alternative is to increase the property tax rate. She said she thinks the 10-year limit on the sales tax helps keep it in check for future use.

“Unless we can find some other way to fund it, that’s where we’re at right now,” Larsen said. “And we’re always looking for different ways to fund things, but this is what we have right now.”

When combined with the county and state’s sales tax rates, Lawrence residents pay 9.05 percent on their purchases, which in Kansas includes groceries. The sales taxes are in addition to the 1 percent general city sales tax and generated $9.8 million to support infrastructure and transit in 2016.

The sales tax was passed with strong support from voters in a citywide election in 2008. Almost three-quarters of city voters, or 73 percent, approved the measure.

City staff are recommending that the City Commission approve an election for the sales tax renewal, which would allow voters to consider each of the three components of the tax individually. If renewed, the city projects the taxes to generate more than $63 million for infrastructure, $42 million for transit and $10.5 million for affordable housing over a 10-year period.

The deadline for questions to be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot is Aug. 7 and the City Commission must approve the ballot language no later than Aug. 1.

Comments

David Holroyd 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Stick with the plan Mr. Wilbur, before the city commission, all five of them, stick it to you and others.

Allowing Mr. Schumm the use of IRBs is questionable. Why should he be exempt from sales tax for purchases for materials. No one else in town is exempt..if so, who are they and why?

Michael Kort 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Well. nobody likes taxes but the alternative is crumbling infrastructure that ends up looking like the overwhelmingly expensive mess of KCMO.. a harder time for those who rely on bus services and a lack of affordable housing for the many Non Billionaires of Lawrence who somehow missed the launch of the middle class boat that is being torpedoed daily by the "more affluent $$$$$ than thou"

So, i am willing to pay .

Deborah Snyder 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The reason this tax was so successful originally was because it covered two things everybody uses; streets and transportation. The city commission wants to avoid making the hard decisions to create district overlays of existing modest housing stock and build new ones on the outskirts of town or as infill at prices above what a $50,000 two-income family can afford.

I will not support twisting this transportation tax into developer give-aways, or as monies made available to NGO's for "affordable housing."

John Davies 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I would love to have the streets fixed so they aren't like Topeka streets or KCMO streets. If that was all it was I'd say yes. We do seem to have a lot of people lined up at the public trough and maybe we need to find new ways to limit that. I'm not sure what we do to be a little better directed about this; city commission elections?

Marilyn Hull 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I support the concept of increasing affordable housing, and am agreeable to being taxed for services that make a real difference. To gain my support for this tax, the city will need to provide more specifics showing exactly how taxpayer investments are going to increase the percentage of Lawrence residents that are not housing cost burdened.

So many relevant cost drivers are out of local government control--land values, building materials costs, construction labor costs, and the mortgage interest deduction (which privileges property owners over renters), to name a few. Who is to say that $10M is going to make an appreciable difference? Show us the math, please.

Melinda Henderson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Agree with needing the details, Marilyn. But I'm not happy about the "re-purposing" of this portion of the sales tax. It just seems like a bait and switch to me...we're already paying the tax, so we won't notice if we keep paying it. I just find it deliciously ironic that the most regressive of all taxes will be used to provide "affordable housing". Gah. When this entire tax was passed in 2008, the state sales tax was a lot lower (5.3%) and our state hadn't been ransacked by the ultra-cons yet. State tax is now at 6.15% and the legislature couldn't quite make removing it from food purchases happen this year. I'm really having trouble with this entire renewal at this point, and I love having the bus available for transportation and would like to figure out a better way to support affordable housing. But, really, have you seen what the entire property tax mill levy increase is going to be this year? Gah, again. Where do we draw the line?

Clara Westphal 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Renters pay property tax. It is disguised as higher rent. Landlords don't pay it. They just raise the rent

If this sales tax doesn't pass, the commission will just raise property tax some more. That seems to be the only way they know how to fund anything. Enough!

Theodore Calvin 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Exactly. I have always said that about renters. They don't explicitly receive a property tax bill from the county, but you can bet on it that they are paying it in their monthly rent. It's not like the landlords are just being nice folks and covering that portion of the cost of being a landlord.

Kevin Anderson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

If some of this infrastructure was used for ALL of Lawrence instead of just the people on the West Side, I might agree with it. However, all of the infrastructure improvements either go to the campus or west Lawrence. The streets, and curbs in Prairie Park are horrible. How does the money go to affordable housing? Does it actually build houses or does it just go in committee members pockets? I don't see the city actually building homes.

Ken Easthouse 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Cross posted from my campaign Facebook page:

Unfortunately, Mr. Wilbur's proposed solutions aren't even close to fixing everything that would happen if the sales tax isn't renewed. Affordable housing initiatives can't have funding removed and the difference made up by simply saying "bring in higher paying jobs." You can't lament the regressive nature of sales tax in one breath, then propose increasing fees for city transit in the other.

That being said, I've always thought there needs to be a reasonable opposition to anything we do in government to keep us on check. While I don't agree particularly with Mr. Wilbur, I applaud him for his willingness to speak up.

Paul Beyer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

When I saw the campaign was started by a libertarian group, I knew it was bad. Libertarians only care about themselves, the rest of us can go to hell. Their only thought being "I've got mine, the hell with anyone else".

Richard Heckler 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Libertarians are not the taxpayers friends not by a long shot. Be very aware of this group as Koch dollars may very well be supporting this activity.

Then I suggest reading this carefully to understand what the radical anti american libertarians have in mind such as taking over USD 497 BOD, City Commission, County Commission etc etc etc.

ALEC Subversive Activity http://www.rightwingwatch.org/report/alec-the-voice-of-corporate-special-interests-in-state-legislatures/#Voter

Then read this very very carefully..... http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/koch-brothers-candidate-training-recruiting-aegis-strategic

Richard Heckler 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"I support the concept of increasing affordable housing, and am agreeable to being taxed for services that make a real difference. To gain my support for this tax, the city will need to provide more specifics showing exactly how taxpayer investments are going to increase the percentage of Lawrence residents that are not housing cost burdened.

So many relevant cost drivers are out of local government control--land values, building materials costs, construction labor costs, and the mortgage interest deduction (which privileges property owners over renters), to name a few. Who is to say that $10M is going to make an appreciable difference? Show us the math, please."

DITTO

"a .55 percent citywide sales tax, has generated millions annually for the city and will sunset next year unless voters renew it"

After reviewing numerous times I voted against this ONLY BECAUSE none of it was necessarily dedicated which left the doors wide open for abuse. Buzz words were there but dedication was not.

So if this sales tax can be dedicated to:

=== Affordable Housing

=== Complete Streets

=== some to the repair of existing streets,curbs and drainage issues

=== some to support USD 497

=== public transit ( every municipal public transportation system is tax dollar supported.)

I will vote for this.

David Holroyd 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Mr. .Kort, the crumbling infrastructure has just been helped along a bit with thousands of gallons of water from the biggest tank on Oread being drained.

The water gushing down the fairly new concrete street is like a waterfall as it comes up between the seams from Lousianan to Ohio...the fill underneath is being comprised.

All this brought to you by your City Manger, not on top of things, brought to you by a Mayor that doesnt Care to Inquire and Ms. Larsen an engineer who should know better and by Mr. Boley who has no interest in the tanks because they do not provide affordable housing and certainly not Mr. Herbert who should care as he is running for office again.

Why doesn't Chad or Rochelle get to the top of the hill and see what is flowing down the hill and then interview the genius at Public Works that couldn't figure out how to sandbag the street and divert the majority of the water into the storm sewer opening.

And to think..Tommy Fritzel could have had all that water with some pumper trucks waiting...

Richard, you could have hauled off some water to water the grass you mow and created more work.

Folks in this town...are sloow on the take.

One thing for sure, the river is getting some mighty fine nice treated water in it at the cost to the taxpayers, like Mr. Kort, Mr. Paul Beyer and what has happened to that McCabe guy and also Dorothy Hoyt Reed and Carol Bowen and even Mr. Easthouse...what do you think about that waste of water and the process involved....that's just a few who should be paying attention.

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