Archive for Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lawrence City Commission to debate raising taxes to pay for new police headquarters

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

July 9, 2017

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As the Lawrence City Commission prepares to decide whether next year’s budget should fund a new police headquarters, a consensus is yet to emerge.

Lawrence voters narrowly rejected a citywide sales tax to fund a police headquarters in 2014, and this time around commissioners will be the ones voting whether to raise property taxes to fund what some may see as a similar project.

But Mayor Leslie Soden said she doesn’t look at it that way. For one, she said she doesn’t think it’s necessary to raise taxes to fund a new police headquarters. Instead, she’d like to defer or modify other projects to keep the rate flat.

“I think people need to be really careful in how they’re framing this topic,” Soden said. “Making a direct connection between the police facility money and raising the mill levy is way too simplified.”

A law enforcement campus

Apart from the difference in funding source, Soden noted there are other distinctions between the $28 million project rejected by voters and the new proposal.

The proposal in front of the commission as part of the 2018 budget is for the first phase of a new law enforcement headquarters, which is estimated to cost $17 million. This time, a land purchase is not recommended and the plan is to create a campus that would allow the city police to co-locate with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to save costs.

The police department has been requesting facility improvements for years. Currently, the department has staff working out of two buildings and stores evidence and equipment at additional locations.

The downtown building that houses the current Law Enforcement Center is leased, and the police department has stated that its training center — formerly an office building — is not properly designed for law enforcement functions. As part of its project request, the department also noted that two of its largest components, patrol and investigations, are 10 miles away from each other.

Still, Soden said she hasn’t ruled out renovation as opposed to new construction, and emphasized that she thinks the conversations regarding co-locating or even potentially combining services with county law enforcement aren’t far enough along.

“It seems too early to talk about a new police building when we need to talk about co-locating first,” said Soden, adding that she’d also like to discuss merging city and county law enforcement. “Those conversations haven’t occurred.”

Other tax increases

The broader context of the discussion is that tax bills are on the rise in Lawrence. Combined with the approved school district and proposed county mill levy increases, Lawrence property owners could see the highest property tax rate increase in five years. The potential rate increase — a combined 5.41 mills — comes at the same times as the city’s proposed renewal of a .55 percent citywide sales tax and proposed increases in city utility rates.

A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of a property's assessed valuation.

The city’s proposed 1.25-mill increase is the smallest of all the proposed property tax increases, and would amount to about a $29 annual increase on a $200,000 home. However, it’s important to note that a large portion of the city’s funding is drawn from sales tax revenue. For instance, in the 2017 budget, 40 percent of the city’s general fund revenue came from sales taxes and 27 percent from property taxes.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said the police department’s headquarters need improvement, but that the debate of how to address that is still open. If the commission moves forward with a project, she said she definitely likes the idea of constructing the project in phases.

“I’ve toured their facilities and I agree with them that they need a physical facility that meets their needs,” Larsen said. “I think at this point, if we move forward with it, it’s now up to the architects and the engineers to take it from here and design us something that works for us in a phased approach.”

Larsen said the commission needs to figure out some way to provide an adequate police station, but that she’s undecided as to whether property taxes should be increased to fund the project.

“I need the opportunity to hear what other citizens are saying and hear how the commission debates it,” Larsen said. “At this point, I’m definitely concerned about what our (mill levy) is being proposed at, but I’m still listening.”

A more modest approach

Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said improving police department facilities is a problem for this commission to deal with, and that may mean raising property tax rates. He noted that cuts are being made in other areas of the city’s budget — including the proposed elimination of 11 positions — and that he didn’t think needs could be met without raising the mill levy.

“How we pay for things is a significant issue in our community,” Boley said. “Part of what we’ve learned is that we have to deal with questions of deferred maintenance."

As far as the strategy of moving forward without a public vote, Boley said he sees the proposal in front of the commission as different. He noted that the funding source and the phased approach both differentiate it, as well as the fact that the city isn’t buying land this time.

“That was very controversial in that last proposal,” Boley said. “This is a much more modest approach to the problem, but it still moves us forward in dealing with that need.”

As part of their meeting Tuesday, commissioners will establish the maximum budget authority and mill levy for the 2018 budget and authorize the publication of the 2018 budget summary.

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

Comments

Richard Heckler 3 months, 1 week ago

"he city’s proposed 1.25-mill increase is the smallest of all the proposed property tax increases, and would amount to about a $29 annual increase on a $200,000 home"

How many of these types of increases have been attached to residential property owners since 1987?

How much are these increases costing residential property owners as we speak?

This is what residential property owners need to know NOW! Multiple increases over a 30 year period is no small change.

How many thousands of dollars are residential property owners being forced to spend annually?

RJ Johnson 3 months, 1 week ago

Let's see, this year will already be the highest tax and personnel property tax increase in years and they want to raise it even higher!! NOT!

David Holroyd 3 months, 1 week ago

What is wrong with Mr. Heckler? Richard, check the county's valuation for the HERE project at 11th and Indiana and Mississippi.

Here is the deal Richard and Chad and other reporters.

The city commission issued IRBs to save sales tax and the amount of IRBs for HERE was 75 million.

How then for the valuation of 2017 does the county only have HERE at $$29,213,200.00

A difference of $46,000,000 and some spare change.

Mr. Boley, having been an audtior for the IRS apparently cannot add or he as a commissioner would be wondering why the city is even giving abatement for taxes to HERE since the valuation is exceeding low and does not match with the IRB numbers.

Is each commissioner really that clueless? They are so with the water still running downhill and degrading the fill under the street, concrete at that.

And Mr. Boley taxes do not need to be raised if the valuation was $75,000,000 equal to the IRB amount issued.

What is going on here? Did the HERE guys from Chicago get Lawrence to issue IRBs for 75 million dollars and then buy materials for the Lawrence project and another project? Maybe Mr. Eglinski should look at the list of materials purchased and the commissioners confirm that they were all used at 11th and Indiana and Mississippi.

Mr. Boley is choice..the guy who wants affordable housing but cannot even figure out how to keep the current housing affordable. I voted for Stuart and quite frankly regret every day doing so. He has been a disappointment!

And Chad, could you look into the valuation for the HERE project? Please. I would write a letter to the editor but the paper probably won't print it, because then the question is in print and online few know about the discrepancy.

Chad, check Mr. McCullough and what was the building permit amount?

The PIRC committee and the city commissioners do not have to give tax abatements, Mr. Eldridge and Mr. Miles at the appraiser's office can do that in a one stop shop. Just lower the valuation.

Does Lawrence really, really have 5 commissioners so clueless?

Didn't HERE have an appeal of the valuation with Mr. Eldridge? Just asking.

Ms. Larsen does raise a valid point about constructing the police facility in phases. Ms. Larsen, hold that thought because soon you and the street department and commissioners will be reconstructing 12 street from Ohio to Louisiana in phases when the concrete pavement collapses....have you checked out the situation? Has the Journal World reported and taken photos?

A commission that dares not to inqure is a commission that is lazy.

Just remember when Stuart Boley talks about affordable housing he isn't talking about yours!

Calvin Anders 3 months, 1 week ago

Our police force should not be striving to consolidate. The should be dispersed throughout the city. Any move to add significant facilities should be tied to plans for reform and tighter community integration. I do think we are pretty lucky in Lawrence with a police force that is better than most in our country in fair and responsible behavior. That does not mean there isn't huge room for improvement. We need to move away from the militaristic, armed to the teeth, shoot first and sort out the details on the official report later kind of law enforcement that has become our nation's standard. And it should start at the city level. City leaders should tie facilities money to plans for reforms. It will not be easy, but it is important.

Tom Thomson 3 months, 1 week ago

While Soden may think it is a good idea to consolidate SO and PD, I can almost guarantee you it will never happen. The County owns the LEC--why would they want to move out and into a new building and have all that empty space just sitting downtown? I don't know the #'s, but it would make sense that the building is close to paid off after all this time, no?

And fwiw, LKPD is not the "militaristic, armed to the teeth, shoot first and sort out the details on the official report later kind of law enforcement" you are referring to.

David Holroyd 3 months, 1 week ago

In case Chad may want to pursue the conflict in numbers regarding HERE, he may want to refer to the Nov 22, 2016 JW article that touts HERE as a 75 million dollar complex with 624 bedrooms and 13,500 sq ft of retail.

It's in the paper folks. It's in the paper Mr. Boley...how do you explain if you were auditing the numbers? It's in the paper Mr Herbert, Ms.Larsen, Mr. McCollugh (maybe he knows!!) and Mr. Markus and Mr. Amyx and of course, Ms. Soden, Mayor

Does she know or can she explain the discrepancy of some 45 million dollars?

Did Lawrence get shafted by some folks from Illinois sharper than the average hound dog?

Maybe HERE should make a donation toward a police station and one neighborhood site could be at the HERE complex.

Bob Summers 3 months, 1 week ago

As thoroughly as American society is devolving, will this police command center be adequate to handle the melange of effervescent noesis in Larryville?

Calvin Anders 3 months, 1 week ago

Tom, I'm not trying to paint LKPD as the worst kind of jack booted thugs. I'm trying to make a point that law enforcement culture in the United States is institutionally corrupt in it's violence and hubris. The culture in general sets itself apart from the communities they serve and patrol them like an occupying force. They protect their own at the expense of truth and justice. They engage in corrupt practices such as asset forfeiture. And they justify violence against their citizenry by talking about how hard their job is. LKPD is not an island. They can't help but be influenced by law enforcement culture. As they expand their arsenal and train their officers to act as a military force, they are corrupted. Again, I count Lawrence as relatively lucky to have a force that seems generally less prone to horrible behavior. But trying to claim that LKPD is always perfect and never engages in unreasonable behavior is ridiculous.

David Holroyd 3 months, 1 week ago

Why isn't the Journal World writing about HERE and how they got a valuation of 29 million when the Journal World wrote about how it was a 75 million dollar project?

Is someone stopping Chad or Rochelle from investigating this? If the valuations were correct, then maybe the city wouldn't need to raise as much through taxes from everyone.

Did the Journal World report FAKE news when they reported the 75 million?

Are there any commissioners who dare to ask? Oh well, after all, they are about to give away free land to billionaires and what is going to be in that spec building? Remember the last spec building at East Hills? The Sue Hack Deciperha scam....

Van Trust is about to pull a fast one on Lawrence and Mr. Markus will brag, Mr. Kelly at the Chamber will brag, along with Soden, Amyx, Herbert, Boley and Larsen.

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