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Lawrence city manager says taxpayers are overpaying for some services

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

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

May 9, 2017

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City Manager Tom Markus thinks the city of Lawrence is getting the short end of the deal in some of its collaborations with Douglas County.

That’s one of the reasons Markus, who presented his recommended budget to the City Commission Tuesday, told commissioners that the main theme of the budget is equity. In addition to partnerships with the county, Markus said the theme of equity related to topics including the proposed police station, balancing operational and infrastructure spending, and agreements with other governments.

Regarding funding agreements with the county, Markus said his goal is to make those collaborations more equitable going forward.

“I think it would be difficult to go back on some of those, but I think if people understand some of the math, it helps them understand where we need to go in terms of the negotiations on some of these things in the future,” Markus said.

Lawrence residents make up about 75 percent of Douglas County’s total population. Property taxes levied on behalf of the city and the county support collaborations such as the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Both the city and county also provide funding for the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center and other programs.

Markus explained that because both the city and county property taxes collected from Lawrence residents go to fund those services, Lawrencians are essentially paying more than Eudora, Baldwin City, Lecompton and other non-Lawrence residents for the same services. For example, Lawrence taxpayers pay for 68 percent of the health department’s costs while non-Lawrence residents and businesses in Douglas County pay 32 percent, according the budget.

“The thing that concerns me — more than just that everybody outside of the City of Lawrence has a 50 percent cut — is I don’t understand how you can treat Lawrence differently than you can treat the other incorporated communities,” Markus said.

Markus’ budget recommends reviewing those agreements, "not in order to reduce the amount of funding going to these services, but to share the cost of providing them more equitably across all taxpayers in Douglas County."

Markus added those communities will likely continue to grow in population.

“As time goes on, especially Eudora, isn’t going to be a little burb on the highway anymore,” Markus said. “That’s going to be a growing entity, and the county I think needs to consider that.”

Commissioner Mike Amyx, who has served several terms beginning in the '80s, said that equitable taxing between city and county residents is not a new issue.

“You’re my fourth city manager, and I don’t remember a budget year where this wasn’t brought up in some fashion,” Amyx said. “Tell me how are you going to do it?”

Markus, who is recommending the city collaborate with the county on the proposed police headquarters, said he will be raising the issue as future agreements are discussed. He also said some of that responsibility rests with the commission.

“My plan includes you, too,” Markus said. “My plan includes all of you, because I think you have to carry some of that water as well.”

Vice Mayor Stuart Boley agreed that the commission needed to come up with good collaborations.

“I think collaboration is a very significant financial opportunity for both the county and the city,” Boley said.

Markus said the theme of equity was both internal and external. He said his recommendation to increase the mill levy by 1.25 mills to help fund the construction of a new police headquarters also related to equity among facilities. He said he doesn’t think it’s necessarily fair to tack the millage entirely on the police facility, given the millions of dollars going toward projects such as the renovation of Fire Station No. 1, construction of a new animal shelter and a proposed fire-training tower.

“My point to you is, all of those things push that up,” Markus said. “Part of the challenge we’ve had with the police facility here is it’s such a big number that it’s hard to really bite down to the concept of how do we get this done?”

Markus said an external issue of equity is the K-10 Connector bus route, which runs along Kansas Highway 10 and takes riders between the University of Kansas, Johnson County Community College and KU’s Edwards Campus. Though Markus is recommending keeping that funding flat for 2018, he said he plans to discuss more equitable funding for the route to make sure Lawrence is paying its fair share.

The City Commission’s work session Tuesday was the first time Markus’ recommended budget was presented. Commissioners will alter the budget over the next two to three months, for final adoption in either August or September.

Comments

David Holroyd 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is how it works, since Lawrence thinks IT is the whole of Douglas county.

At first with the headline, I thought the Mr. Markus was going to reveal that the taxpayers in the City of Lawrence were paying too much for city services in Lawrence.

This Mr. Markus us blowing some smoke and mirrors numbers to create a position to influence the jail construction project. A way to get it passed !!

How's about the commission carrying some water to repair the Mausoleum before Memorial Day.

$15,000 is plenty to repaint inside, sandblast the doors and repaint. Some local donor who can do stained glass for the front windows and parks and recs has plenty of shrubs around. Oh, the gaping holes inside...of the burial vaults previously emptied...check with Thomas Fritzel about some extra pieces of granite to fill those in.

And then the five commissioners can start planning for next year for a mighty nice sign in front to show who is left and who departed to the south side of Oak Hill.

Wait! Commissioner Herbert when he was elected was going to donate ALL of his salary to charity...how's about a bit to the Mausoleum?

and could Mr. Markus enlighten the Journal World how the parking meter revenue is coming along from Indiana st and Mississippi to fund Affordable Housing...I do believe Mr. Boley had some idea about money from those meters.

Has anyone figured out if Mr. Markus lives in Lawrence?

Richard Heckler 4 months, 2 weeks ago

There is plenty of taxpayer interest in a mental health facility yet that thinking gets the blind eye.

Considering taxpayers voted a new police station down demonstrates that is not how taxpayers want to spend OUR money.

If city hall is not going to sell the 15th and Wakarusa property what will that be used for? Is City Hall saying that $15 million cannot make the 15th and Wakarusa location viable? For years to come? And staying on budget?

Simply because taxpayers support public education mostly by " redeveloping" existing resources is no indication that taxpayers have changed their minds regarding the $30 million new project. Taxpayers deserve more respect for their votes.

Tom Thomson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

You keep saying the city should sell the ITC, but I've yet to see a single recommendation from you as far as what should happen to the Investigations, Training, Admin and other staff based out there. Should they setup a bunch of trailers in South Park to allow these folks to be closer to Patrol and others at the LEC?

Here's what should happen. The City should begin construction on the new facility at Congressional/Overland Drive. Once that facility is 100% operational and patrol, etc., have moved in, they can then evaluate how much space is remaining in phase one to allow some groups from the ITC to move into the new building.

In terms of $15 million to upgrade the ITC, the simple fact is no, it is not viable. There is simply no space to expand the building and provide a functioning police station out of it. There's barely enough parking as it is, let alone usable space in that area.

Richard Heckler 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The 15th and Wakarusa location could be sold but move in date of new owner would need to set around completion of whatever.

How about The County Courthouse? Can that be converted to usable space?

Then relocate the county commission meeting space, voting,property tax and license operations into Riverfront Plaza? I realize the thought of doing this is scary though not impossible.

STILL taxpayers voted a new police station down demonstrates that is not how taxpayers want to spend OUR money.

Tom Thomson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Still not enough space, plus that wouldn't solve the issue of the dept. being spread across multiple locations. There's no way the county building can be modified for all of the uses the dept. requires.

Francis Hunt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"In addition to partnerships with the county, Markus said the theme of equity related to topics including the proposed police station." What does the city police station have to do with the county? I bet if put on paper Lawrence tax payers are getting a pretty sweet deal. Bert Nash, 911 operators, Health dept, Peaslee, and others, my guess is these services are used in a disproportionate number by Lawrence residents.

"Lawrence residents make up about 75% of Douglas County total population...Lawrence residents pay for 68% of the health department's costs." Why isn't the county charging the city more?

Kendall Simmons 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"Why isn't the county charging the city more?" Exactly!!

Tom Markus' math skills are ATROCIOUS. We have 75% of the population, but are only paying 68% of the costs? That means that our PER CAPITA costs (a concept he seems unfamiliar with) are LOWER than the costs of the other communities in Douglas County.

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