Archive for Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lawrence City Commission would have to eliminate millions worth of projects to keep tax rate flat

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

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

June 14, 2017


Although city commissioners questioned how much Lawrence property taxes should increase, most agreed at their work session Tuesday that some level of increase would be necessary.

Commissioner Mike Amyx said he wanted to make sure commissioners did their part to keep the mill levy increases as low as possible and continue to address priorities. Amyx said he thought that was especially important given recent audits that found the city failed to send invoices and collect payments for significant sums.

“Based on the stuff that’s come out, really, are we ready to have a mill levy increase?” Amyx asked. “I’ve been thinking about this the last couple days, and I really wonder about it. If that’s the direction that we ought to go until we take care of these other things.”

City Manager Tom Markus recently ordered an independent audit of the city’s billing procedures, which found that poor record keeping, insufficient employee training and a lack of oversight caused payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to go uncollected by the city. Only the initial phase of the audit has been completed, and final figures aren’t yet known.

As part of his 2018 recommended budget, Markus proposed a 1.25 mill levy increase, which will help fund a $17 million police facility. Commissioner Matthew Herbert recognized that people are angry about the uncollected payments, but said that the commission still needs to focus on its priorities, including funding the new police facility.

“We can’t let the distractions get in the way of our fundamental goal,” said Herbert, noting that recent online surveys indicate public safety is a high priority in the community. “That’s what we’re tasked to do.”

Markus told the commission he can’t say yet how much money the city will be able to collect as a result of the audit. He also noted that the statute of limitations may come into play for some contracts and that some who owe the city money may argue the city’s findings.

Markus added that it’s not just the funds for the police facility, but other projects as well, that are resulting in the proposed 1.25 mill levy increase. He said that if he had a criticism of what the city has done in the past, it’s that it continues to kick projects down the road.

“This town is going to continue to grow whether you like it or not,” Markus said. “And the various departments, including the police department, will continue to grow.”

Vice Mayor Stuart Boley agreed that it is time for the commission to pursue a new police facility.

“With regards to the police facility, that’s been an issue for this commission for a couple years,” Boley said. “And I think we have to come to grips with it and I think this provides us a way to do that phased and, frankly, responsibly.”

Commissioner Lisa Larsen agreed that the city needs to stop kicking the can down the road, and take care of necessary projects. Still, Larsen hesitated about raising the mill levy.

“I don’t know if that’s the right answer, but I don’t know another way,” Larsen said. “…We’ve got to at some point stop doing that. We’ve got to take care of business.”

Mayor Leslie Soden was the only one to say that she wanted to hold the property tax rate flat.

“I would like to adjust so that we don’t have a mill levy increase,” Soden said.

To do that, however, city staff told commissioners they would have to cut out millions worth of projects. Finance Director Bryan Kidney said that because the proposed 1.25 mills is in bonded funds and would therefore be paid off over time, the commission would need to cut a total of $16 million to 17 million to keep the property tax rate steady.

In addition to the property tax rate increase, the proposed budget includes utility rate increases and the elimination of nearly a dozen positions. Over the next five years, Lawrence is looking to fund about 180 large projects and purchases totaling $284 million. The new police facility, automated water meters and major road reconstructions are all in the plans.

The commission also heard about adjustments to the budget. Kidney said that there were adjustments across the board, including an increase in property tax valuations, which added about $1.4 million to the city’s revenue. However, other sources of revenue — such as sales tax and franchise fees — came in below projections. Overall, the adjustments included in the city staff memo to the commission amounted to a net increase of about $285,000. The revised total general fund expenditure budget is now $75 million.

The proposed mill levy increase would amount to about a $29 increase in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home.

That leaves the question of what to eliminate.

“Which projects do you do without?” Amyx asked. “Which are not priorities?”

The City Commission will consider the budget’s maximum expenditures at its meeting on July 11. A public hearing for the budget would then be scheduled for Aug. 1.


Deborah Snyder 11 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Amyx has it right: I understand the commission's dilemma, but PLEASE make sure you complete a bottom-to-top financial review of city billing procedures, accounts receivable, etc., and utilize your commission-appointed auditor before you decide to propose a mill-levy raise.

Charlie Dominguez 11 months, 1 week ago

Was there not a city public vote and the construction of a new police station was voted down?

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Yes is the answer now our elected officials are going around the voting taxpayers as if the vote did not matter.

Clara Westphal 11 months, 1 week ago

When Mr. Markus gets his police department facility, I hope it will be better built than Rock Chalk Park. A recently built building should not be having cracks inside and out. Hire someone who will build a building without bilking the city and tax payers.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

The police department facility has been on a back burner for at least ten years along with the sewage treatment plant and the library. My interpretation of the recent vote against a new police department facility was backlash and anger after the community realized how expensive the new sports complex was. The sports complex was not voted on, by the way.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Again the city should do as the school board does. Seek approval for which projects taxpayers do indeed have an interest in. This could do wonders for fiscal responsibility and management.

Theodore Calvin 11 months, 1 week ago

But the voters did speak. Whether it was a referendum on RCP or not, that doesn't change the vote. Just because it could be construed in that manner doesn't mean the citizens didn't mean it. It means that we realized we spent our savings on something else, and couldn't afford the other necessity we should have bought. And now with Fritzel and the gift that keeps on giving, it should speak even louder to the commissioners that the citizenry should be listened to instead of ignored. Ignoring the citizenry is what pigeon-holed the police station to begin with. Had they just built it instead of RCP we would not be having any of these conversations or questioning the motives of OUR city governors. They have proven to be inept financial planners and negotiators, and now they are trying to do an end-around on the police station as if our vote didn't matter. Shame on them.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

If voters had had the option to choose either the police facility or the sports complex knowing the needs for each, which do you think they would have considered more necessary?

Kendall Simmons 11 months ago

But Markus wants to build a police"campus"...and hopes that the Douglas County Sheriff's Dept. will move there.

And for what do we "need" this new facility? Because the police need more storage? (Build a storage facility.) And it takes 10 minutes to drive to the shooting range? (BIG WHOOP!!!)

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

The proposed mill levy increase would amount to about a $29 increase in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home. How many of these small looking increases have voters been asked to absorb over the past 20 years? They add up.

Remember commissioners the voting taxpayers did not create this situation. There was not a ton of support for the poorly constructed Rock Chalk Park facility yet elected officials proceeded with a questionable contractor/builder.

Taxpayers voted down the new jail space. Jails do not pay for themselves. I do hope our jail system has not been handed over to a private profiteer that will bilk taxpayers and write their own guidelines.

Perhaps the city should do as the school board does and ask for approval of which projects taxpayers do indeed have an interest in. This could do wonders for fiscal responsibility and management. The list should include new infrastructure for new development,purchase of new property,do taxpayers want to be the lending agency for new development ....... etc etc etc. Any new park expenditures etc etc etc.

Maybe taxpayers would rather have more code inspectors that will be tough instead of NOT having enough code inspectors???

Out sourcing is not a win win win for taxpayers in spite of the rhetoric.

Do we really need automated water meters that might put people out of work? Automated water meters won't buy groceries,houses,cars,Free State Beer and food etc etc etc.

I say city hall should collect all of that money that has not been collected before moving forward.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Again the city should do as the school board does. Seek approval for which projects taxpayers do indeed have an interest in. This could do wonders for fiscal responsibility and management.

I believe it is safe to say taxpayers don't necessarily believe elected officials or the Chamber have made the best decisions over the years. It's our money therefore it is time WE had a say.

David Holroyd 11 months, 1 week ago

Again, another story lacking facts and details. Why hasn't the Journal World interviewed the present and some past commissioners to nail down why the findings of the city auditor were not complied with? After all, the auditor was to report to the commissioners. And to think one current commissioner is a former IRS auditor.

Mr. Charles Jones spoke in another post about "pointing fingers". Well, Mr. Jones it's about time that the fingers become a whole hand.

This is ridiculous at best and some current commissioners are running again. Do they deserve to be re elected? NOT!

How much income does the increase in valuations garner the city? Answer please, JW!

Increase already in fees, sewer rates, water rates, parking fines ( that department is so convoluted in operation!!).

I am thinking now that this old Snarky is going to do a bit of researching into this Mr. Markus and his resume facts.

Thus far, he has done nothing to engage the public in supporting him and it is appearing each and every day, that the five commissioners have not the cahonies to bring him into line. They will do whatever he tells them. Markus works for them, not them for him.

Is Lawrence really becoming that backward?

Maybe the $60,000 to save a tree could be used to replace the apron to the city lot behind the Carnegie bullding. All that money spent on it...and now the concrete apron is becoming a gravel pit.

That may seem small , but all over the city these problems exist. I would challenge each commissioner to go out and make a list of infrastructure problems, and compare notes. But then, that would be like too much work for them. I can't fault Mr. Herbert,,,because he is giving his pay he shouldn't work too hard:). Is that the pay after taxes and withholding? Just asking.

When the city gives away FREE land at Venture has to wonder how needy the city really is when it comes to revenue?

A city so desperate, they will give away the best parcels of ground just so the Van Trust can build a warehouse type building. Go figure, then Van Trust will suck away some already exisiting operations, because the land was free and the taxes are cheap.

Desperate decisions by desperate leaders or should I say, a desperate City Manager to pump himself up so he moves on to the next town.

I just wonder what the swap meet talk was in Iowa City, I really do!

David Holroyd 11 months, 1 week ago

And Mr. Amyx, you have served for some time. Would you please step forward and tell the public who did not send out the bills? Or was some memo delivered to one Mr. Corliss who was to take care of the problems.?

Were these billing problems under Mr. Wildgen or Mr. Corliss?

Why doesn't Chad just ask the questions?

Wayne Kerr 11 months, 1 week ago

I think I'm just going to have to change my last name to Fritzel or Compton so I can be exempt from paying any new property taxes for the next twenty years. Heck, with a name change I might even be able to apply for my own "special" tax district so Lawrence residents pay their sales tax directly to my personal bank account.

David Holroyd 11 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Heckler, or Richard, or whomever you have posting under your name. Stick with the issues.

Why are you not asking of each and every commissioner who dropped the ball on the city auditor's findings?

That is the question ! Come on down, the price is right and win a green alarm clock for the true answer.

Does Amyx know? Does Herbert know? Does Boley know? Does Larsen know? Does even Soden know...and going back a bit further, how about Schumm, Dever, Farmer and Reardon maybe and even Corliss and Ms. Stoddard and then we have the legal beagles, Cooley and Wheeler and now there is a Larkin..

All those folks and the paper cannot get an answer?

No Richard, please stay focused!

Francis Hunt 11 months, 1 week ago

"Which projects do you do without?” Amyx asked. “Which are not priorities?”

This doesn't surprise me. The city commission has always had trouble understanding the difference between wants and needs. Need to cut $16 - $17 million? Want to know what you can do without?

Automated meter reading (a want, not a need) - $10.9 million Queens Road (didn't they already say the property owners are paying for it?) - $4.6 million Transit Hub (this is a want, not a need, and it's been addressed) - $4.5 million 19th Street, phase 2 (KU needs to pay to repair and improve this after their construction project destroyed it) - $3.9 million 19th Street reconstruction (since there aren't any tenants in Venture park this is a want not a need) - $3.6 million East 9th (what part of East 9th, the "art corridor"? If so, it's another want) - $2.5 million

There you go, $30 million cut.

Clara Westphal 11 months, 1 week ago

The city could also collect the money it is owed. That would add to your total amount.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

Sometime in the past, the city had a revenue surplus. There were no new projects planned. Rather than invest in infrastructure, the city commission decided to give tax payers a break. Taxes were cut.

Once taxes are cut, it is very difficult to raise them again. The budget back in the day did not include updating and renovation. Taking care of existing infrastructure needs to be back in the budget. Yes, we could trim the budget, but what will Lawrence look like if we don't fix it up? Look at the condition of some of the buildings, streets, sidewalks. And, that's just repairs. We are not really talking tax increase. The city needs to restore revenue to the previous level and use the money wisely.

I'm not wild about restoring revenue, but it should be done. Trim the budget where it needs to trimmed, but catch up on infrastructure and prepare for new growth.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Maintaining existing resources first is an excellent concept. Yes before adding on more liabilities.

Kevin Kelly 11 months, 1 week ago

We need to bill KU for the KU projects the City has obligingly absorbed: the new waterline down Ousdahl to the Central District project, the new absolutely necessary intersection at 19th and Ousdahl, the new intersection at 19th and Naismith to rectify drainage and infrastructure issues created by Central District, the new intersection at 23rd and Ousdahl to rectify new and old KU drainage issues, the new intersection at 11th and Mississippi, 19th St itself, Crescent and Naismith, the pending intersection at 23rd and Iowa. KU is spending our money! The City won't acknowledge what is the obvious KU agenda for spending.of City money, wondering what happens that we don't see.......

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Let's hold the line on future annexing. Because that opens the doors to NOT necessary new infrastructure demands and places an additional load on taxpayers.

Again every new decision comes with new economic growth beyond reality from real estate profiteers which we should question frequently.

New annexing may not pay back for say 50 years if ever. It has been said that new residential never pays back due to the long list of infrastructure demands that comes attached to each home and their tenants.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

This one consequence usually goes goes unmentioned – how many ways are our pocketbooks getting drained.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

The city lacks jobs. Let's hold the line until our economy is more balanced. Otherwise, we will be a bedroom community. Bedroom communities cannot sustain themselves.

David Holroyd 11 months, 1 week ago

Ms. Bowen, just what kinds of jobs do you think Lawrence can attract?

Just asking?

As for cutting millions of dollars, well, if the city bid projects more carefully, the millions might drop to hundreds of thousands. After all, let's see, Placemakers,,,just how much was that study.

Ms. Bowen, what fruits were gathered from that Placemakers scam?

The city has plenty of money but the Commissioners do not understand what needs to be done and if they continue to listen to one, Mr. Markus, even you Ms. Bowen will soon realize that your taxes and your inflated valuation on your house still won't solve the problem.

The town has always been a bedroom community,,,Dupont, Sunlfower Ordnance company, Payless shoe source, just to name a teenie few.

When Lawrence was sustainable, the income to the city for example was all that was budgeted except for long term projects. No every project seems to be short term and more of them.

More on that as Snarky is wondering what this so called non payment of lease monies amounts to. It seems that it really is not that important as the city commission has taken no action to collect such unknown to the public funds.Is the Mayor going to make a motion at a meeting to direct via Mr. Markus to Mr. Kidney to get the money asap?

It's just newspaper filler right now.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

Placemakers received I believe $250,000.

One interesting suggestion coming from Placemakers was that Lawrence,Kansas retail was 30% over built yet has never slowed down. Of course the over growth powers that be simply thought Lawrence cannot possibly have way too much retail.

Placemakers also was impressed with how old Lawrence neighborhoods were laid out so sensibly.

Placemakers put forth the concept of a downtown grocery store.

Bert Williams 11 months, 1 week ago

Some of you have a pretty short memory. "The Vote" was if voters were willing to fund a police department with a minuscule sales tax increase. If this would have been done then out of town shoppers would have paid for a very large portion of the new building. There was never a vote on if the police actually need a new building or not. Anyone with a brain that has been paying attention knows that a police department this size has certain needs. That has never been put up to a vote and never will. Just like we will never have a vote on if the community needs a working sewer system or if the city needs to pay for roads. The vote was simply giving us a chance to pay for it very easily and have those who shop from out of town help carry the burden. We decided "no" on funding with a sales tax by the slimmest of margins.

Kendall Simmons 11 months ago

The only "needs" presented were for more storage and the fact that it took 10 minutes to drive to the shooting range. Oh! The horror!

We do NOT need a new police station. (Or a police "campus" Markus calls it...where the Sheriff's Dept. might move.) We need a police storage facility. PERIOD.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

Snarky! I knew you'd show up. I was hoping you would have suggestions for the job market. I'd say jobs in health and human services fields given that the senior population is increasing. Technology will take care of itself.

David Holroyd 11 months, 1 week ago

Richard said Placemakers cost $250,000. Wow, that's all the 19th and Haskell shopping center is worth and to think a commission paid to study it?

No wonder there is no money!

Just noticed how crappy 13th street is from Mass going west to Kentucky. And to think a nice funeral home and entrance to the lawyers of note in Lawrence. Even those two entities do not care how the streets are to the places of businesses.

Carol, you don't mind being on first names, after all you address me as Snarky. So, here's the deal about health care. In Lawrence, the business is in death. Waiting rooms for the call from God. Look around at all the"retirement' communites. What a misnomer if ever. But you know what Ms. Bowen, not one of those places east of Iowa. Wouldn't you like to stay in your neighborhood instead of re locating to the west side of town.

See, even the developers don't get it, they really do not.

You send me a note to my abode near where the new Chancellor know he will be making house calls..I am so lucky he will continue medicine. So, you send me a note and I will give you some information and share some nice pretty photos of what other places look like that are led by visionaries .

So about jobs. Before there are jobs, there must be an available source of employees. Are you in the employment market? Prob not,,nor are those you speak of as seniors. It will get so bad that soon the elderly will be cleaning their own bedpans at the "retirement' communities and still paying $8,000 a month to live there.

If you live near the Malls Shopping Center, tell me which is worse..Lousiana street or the Malls parking lot. They are a close race for first place in decrepit!

Over but maybe not out....yours truly Snarky.

Carol Bowen 11 months, 1 week ago

I surely would not want to live in a high-rise landscaped with parking lots. And, I am not interested in basketball, although I find the Harlem Globetrotters entertaining.

What are the assets we have locally? Schools including two universities. A growing senior population (homegrown ), Hallmark cards, the garage door manufacturer, a few government functions like USPS and USGS, construction, a well educated community, but enough of a trained community. It's best to build on what we have rather than make something out of nothing.

We can't force jobs to happen, but we can advertise what we have.

Call me Carol

Kevin Kelly 11 months, 1 week ago

The tunnel at 19th and Iowa on the upcoming City agenda is a quite intriguing use of City funds. Only $300,000.00 in City money for the $1.5 million project if KDOT approved. The tunnel would go from south west corner to north east corner of the intersection at 19th and Iowa. Should the tunnel be paid for by the City or the KU students and basketball fans that would be using the proposed tunnel? I could use a curb but a $300,000.00 tunnel for KU students using City money sounds so intriguing and pairs well with the rest of the money the City is spending on the Central District for KU.

Kelly Ryan 11 months, 1 week ago

Hopefully roundabouts and calming devices will Be on the cut list.

Richard Heckler 11 months, 1 week ago

For about 30 years the notion perpetrated by the Chamber and too many city commissioners is "build it and they will come".

What has been delivered?

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