Lawrence City Commission to consider asking voters to renew city sales tax

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., Thursday, July 7, 2016

At their meeting Tuesday, city commissioners will decide whether to ask Lawrence voters to renew a citywide sales tax instead of allowing it to expire next year.

If renewed, the .55 percent citywide sales tax would be in place from 2019 to 2029 and is projected to generate more than $116 million for city infrastructure improvements, transit operations and affordable housing projects.

Instead of allowing the tax to sunset, city staff are recommending that the City Commission approve an election to ask for its renewal. The renewal would be part of the Nov. 7 election, and the ballot question would allow voters to consider each of the three components of the tax individually.

The .55 percent tax breaks down as follows: .3 percent for infrastructure, .2 percent for transit and .05 percent for the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Currently, the .05 percent funds expansion of the city’s transit service, but that portion would be repurposed as part of the renewal.

Specifically, the infrastructure portion of the tax would fund improvements and maintenance of streets, sidewalks and storm water facilities; construction and maintenance of recreational trails and paths; and purchase and replacement of city fire equipment and infrastructure.

The transit portion would fund the operations of the city’s public transit service. In a memo to the commission, staff state that the sales tax is the primary source of local funding for transit operations and that the service would not likely continue without a renewal. The affordable housing portion would provide additional revenues for affordable housing projects and programs in the city.

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 proposed 2018 budget also calls for a 1.25-mill increase in the property tax rate. Last week, a local group launched a campaign for voters to reject the city sales tax renewal.

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 .55 percent sales tax is in addition to the 1 percent general city sales tax . If not renewed by Lawrence voters, the taxes will sunset in March 2019.

In other business, the commission will:

Conduct a public hearing regarding VanTrust Real Estate’s application to the city’s Catalyst incentive program. The real estate company is seeking city tax abatements and free land to construct up to $31 million of industrial buildings at Lawrence VenturePark.

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