Archive for Monday, September 25, 2017

Local group wants Lawrence residents to vote against $116M citywide sales tax renewal

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

September 25, 2017

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Most tax increases put to Lawrence voters in recent years have passed with large margins, but one local group wants voters to think twice about the city’s request to renew a special citywide sales tax.

Patrick Wilbur, treasurer of local political advocacy group Lawrence Sunset Alliance, said the city’s proposal isn’t the best it can do.

“Saying sales tax is the only way to cover services is kind of like saying there is only one way to score a touchdown,” Wilbur said. “There’s a variety of ways that the city can be creative here, whether it’s through the general budget, a smaller sales tax, or whether we just look at things item by item.”

Voters passed the city’s extra .55 percent sales tax with strong support in 2008. Almost three-quarters of city voters, or 73 percent, approved the measure.

In November, voters will be asked to renew the sales tax instead of allowing it to sunset. 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.

Hayden Maples, chair of the LSA, wants to be clear that the group isn’t opposed to funding infrastructure, transit or affordable housing but is instead advocating for a different approach to funding.

“We know infrastructure is important, we know public transportation is important and we’re all for affordable housing,” Maples said. “We’re just not sure these are the right approaches.”

Comparing Kansas and Lawrence tax rates

With state, city and county sales taxes, Lawrence residents pay 9.05 percent on their purchases, which in Kansas includes groceries. The sales taxes up for renewal are in addition to the 1 percent general city sales tax and the 1 percent county tax, of which the city gets the majority.

The average sales tax rate in Kansas is 8.6 percent, making it one of the highest in the U.S. Specifically, Kansas has the eighth-highest average sales tax rate in the country, topping the average rate in states such as New York, California and Texas. Regionally, Kansas’ rate surpasses the average rates of some Midwestern states by as many as 3 percentage points.

At 9.05 percent, Lawrence’s local sales tax rate is on the higher end in Kansas. Salina, for instance, has a rate of 8.75 percent and Wichita a rate of 7.5 percent. Lawrence’s rate is surpassed by cities such as Kansas City, Kan., Topeka and Olathe, which have rates of 9.125 percent, 9.15 percent and 9.475 percent.

Sales tax collection, though, is key to the city’s budget, accounting for 40 percent of the general fund’s revenue this year. City staff has said major adjustments will have to be made to the budget if the renewal doesn’t pass. That includes reducing or deferring infrastructure projects, significantly reducing the city’s bus service, and providing less funding to address the city’s affordable housing shortage.

Considering low-income residents

Maples said comparisons to sales tax rates of other cities are shocking.

“For a community that considers itself to be progressive, that’s pretty high,” Maples said.

Wilbur and Maples said the main reason the group is opposed to the sales tax is because it’s regressive, meaning that unlike property taxes — where those with more expensive properties pay more overall — sales tax disproportionately burdens those with lower incomes.

Increasing the sales tax also hasn’t meant property tax relief for Lawrence residents. In fact, the city’s property tax rate grew faster in the decade after the current sales tax was passed than the previous 10 years. From 1998 to 2008, the city’s mill levy rate increased by about 16 percent. From 2008 to 2018, the time span of the current sales tax, the property tax rate will have increased by about 20 percent.

Other local property tax rates are also set to rise next year. Together, Lawrence residents will see a property tax increase of about 6.67 mills in 2018: 1.25 mills from the city, 1.916 mills from the county and 3.5 mills from the school district.

Combined, the property tax increase will cost the owner of a $175,000 home an additional $135 annually in property taxes. The City Commission also approved an increase in utility rates that will cost the average resident another $65 annually.

Wilbur said some of the feedback the alliance has gotten is that collectively, it’s just too much at once.

“People are tax weary and they are concerned that renewing these taxes would continue that burden,” Wilbur said.

Wilbur said if infrastructure, transit and affordable housing are truly important, they should be funded by other means. He said that is particularly true for core services such as infrastructure.

Infrastructure and sidewalks

The city’s capital improvement plan assumes renewal of the infrastructure sales tax, which would generate $63 million for projects over the 10-year period. The city plans to use the sales tax revenue for several high-dollar infrastructure projects and annual programs, such as the residential street maintenance program, improvements to 23rd Street and increased funding for some sidewalk, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Earlier this month, the City Commission voted unanimously to use the existing 2018-2022 capital improvement plan as the spending plan for the infrastructure sales tax renewal. The CIP lists 20 infrastructure projects or programs.

However, one community group is concerned with what that plan has left out.

The infrastructure sales tax ballot language, which is binding, does not specifically address the issue of residential sidewalk repair. Although the dollars could still be used on those repairs, Director of Public Works Chuck Soules previously told the Journal-World that is not currently the plan.

In January, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, which includes representatives from about a dozen neighborhoods, voted to take an official stance on sidewalk repair funding.

The current city ordinance, which has not been fully enforced, requires property owners to pay to repair sidewalks that border their homes. That has resulted in millions of dollars of unattended cracked or broken sidewalks, and LAN said the city should help fund those repairs.

LAN has no official stance on the sales tax renewal, but LAN co-chair Courtney Shipley said members are disappointed that the renewal doesn’t set aside money for residential sidewalk repair.

“We have been on the record and long maintained that the city needs to come up with a funding source for sidewalks, and they have not addressed that problem,” Shipley said.

Shipley said LAN’s goal is to make sure voters understand that. The LSA gave a presentation to LAN at its last meeting, and Shipley said the next meeting will include a presentation from a city staff member and advocates for the affordable housing tax. She said the intent is purely informational.

“You vote however you vote, that’s fine,” Shipley said. “But we just want people to be aware and know what the issues are and know what the benefits are.”

Transit and affordable housing

If the transit sales tax is renewed, it is projected to generate about $4 million per year for transit operations, which enables the city to receive nearly that same amount annually from state and federal transportation grants. Bus fares only account for about 6 percent of transit’s revenue.

Instead of relying on sales tax revenue, Wilbur said the city could increase fares or request funding from the University of Kansas, which coordinates its routes with the citywide transit system. He also said the uncertainty regarding the transit hub — a second location analysis is in the works but won’t be done before the vote — is also problematic.

“We don’t know what the future of the hub is, and committing this kind of money right now just doesn’t seem to make sense,” Wilbur said.

If the affordable housing sales tax is approved, it is projected to generate about $1 million per year for the city’s affordable housing trust. More than three out of every 10 homes in the city are unaffordable, and supporters say that funding is needed to address what has become a widespread problem. The trust has helped fund a handful of housing projects in recent years, which some say are examples of how the money will be spent. The ballot language broadly outlines how the money can be spent.

But Wilbur said he doesn’t think that’s enough. He said some of the feedback he’s heard from people is that they want to see a specific spending plan, “a vision of how the sales tax is actually going to help increase the availability of affordable homes and apartments.”

Wilbur also said the affordable housing problem has multiple causes, including local wages and the economic effect of people who work in nearby cities but live in Lawrence.

“It’s much deeper than a pot of money that the city can spend at their discretion every year,” Wilbur said.

But the group thinks concerns about spending plans can be addressed.

A counter offer

Each of the three components of the sales tax are separate ballot items. If any of the components are voted down, the timing of the election allows for the city to hold a second and potentially a third election. City leaders have previously told the Journal-World that could allow them to modify the ballot questions.

Maples said he sees that structure as a chance for voters to negotiate.

“The city has put this out as their starting point, and really the only counter offer we have right now is a vote 'no,' so we come back and have more discussions about other ways to handle these issues,” Maples said. “If the vote comes back 'yes,' that’s it, done deal.”

For her part, Shipley said she thinks that structure gives the city another chance to set aside funding for residential sidewalk repair, should voters reject the infrastructure sales tax renewal the first time around.

“If that was the case, then I would suggest that those homeowners and taxpayers demand that they come up with a solution for the sidewalk problem and that that be addressed in that tax,” Shipley said.

Wilbur said the Lawrence Sunset Alliance has presented to neighborhood and community groups, and those presentations will likely continue. As the election nears, he said the group will be canvassing neighborhoods to hand out informational flyers and distribute yard signs.

Comments

Francis Hunt 4 weeks ago

I hope that Mr. Wilbur who serves as co-chair of the Voter Education Coalition has resigned from his position for this election year. The VEC and League of Women Voters are supposed to be non-partisan groups who jointly educate voters through different events including candidate forums. It is a true conflict of interest if Mr. Wilbur is still involved with the VEC and League and is out campaigning against a ballot issue.

Cille King 3 weeks, 6 days ago

The League of Women Voters remains non-partisan. The Lawrence League will host a "Hot Topic" on the pros and cons of the sale tax ballot questions on the evening of Thursday, October 19, at Plymouth Congregational Church.

Patrick Wilbur 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Thanks for your concern Francis. I resigned my position as co-chair in May. The VEC is a great organization that was, is and will remain a non-partisan entity.

Patrick

Richard Quinlan 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Local Libertarians want less tax , Im shocked. I did note that there were no alternatives presented.This is simply a different cloak for the local Libertarian Party to operate under. Be up front with who and what you are what you advocate.

Steve Jacob 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Feel free to pay more taxes if you like. As a registered Libertarian I disagree with the group using the sales tax is "progressive" argument. Sales tax / user taxes are the most fair, because as we have seen in the Trump era, it's easy for the rich to not pay taxes, not very many exemptions on sales tax.

Hayden Maples 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Steve, The lack of exemptions on sales tax is part of the reason they are considered regressive. Kansas is one of the few states that charges the full sales tax rate on essentials like food. If two people each spend $100 on groceries and therefore $9.05 in taxes, that is a proportionally larger impact on the one with lower income. While there is plenty of material to discuss in the Trump era, this sales tax vote is the most immediate and actionable so that is where our focus is at the moment.

Steve Jacob 3 weeks, 5 days ago

But the rich pay more in sales tax because they buy more stuff. I guess we can both vote no for different reasons.

Hayden Maples 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Richard, there has been no intent to hide our origins or our goal of reducing taxes. A previous LJW article (http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2017/jul...) noted that we founded the Lawrence Sunset Alliance as a nonpartisan group open to the joint efforts of other organizations that oppose these special sales taxes. As this article mentioned, we have been presenting to a number of groups in the community with the message of voting no on these special sales tax questions.

Deborah Snyder 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I would ask Mr. Wilbur, and everyone else who thinks there should be a municipal fund for neighborhood sidewalk repair, how it is that, somehow, all those households whose property those sidewalks were installed on, should not and/or cannot be held financially responsible for the condition those walkways?

I have a really hard time understanding how the cascade of irresponsible homeownership becones the city's burden to fix, rather than the individuals, whose property values benefitted from the installation of those sidewalks.

So! Here is the one and only solution I am willing, as one of those taxpayers expected to pony up for decades of their neglect, to allow: Anyone property owner who thinks they're entitled to the funds necessary to fix their personal section of sidewalk built to benefit THEIR property from being trampled on, can apply for a lien from the city(!)...at 0% interest even(!!)...to get THEIR property sidewalk fixed.

I come from a traditional, well-established belief that there always has been, and will always be, an expectation of anybody living in a community from which they benefit, to maintain the services extended to them by that community. The property owners who choose to live in this community will, by easy or hard means, take financial responsibility for their telephone, electric, water and sewage, trash and condition of their property for the community's benefit, as well as their own.

And that includes their sidewalks and their driveways. Period. I will work hard to remind any resident of that fact, and will not support any kind of a bailout for "repair" of neighborhood sidewalks on private proprty.

Steve Jacob 3 weeks, 6 days ago

How many homeowners feel the sidewalk in their yard is a benefit to them? I sure don't.

Bonnie Uffman 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Ms. Snyder, apparently you believe that the household with the sidewalk on their side of the street, benefits more from that sidewalk than do their neighbors across the street, with no adjacent sidewalks. i see it differently. To me, the sidewalks are there for the benefit of us all and, therefore, it seems most equitable that we all pay for the sidewalks. (And by the way, I have no sidewalk to be repaired. To me this is simply a matter of trying to be as fair as possible to everyone concerned).

Kevin Anderson 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I do not consider the 100 feet of sidewalk on my property any benefit to me personally. I am required to shovel it every time it snows, or get fined by the city. Keep my trees cut back so that it does not interfere with the use of the sidewalk. Now, you and the city also expect me to pay to repair a sidewalk that I never even use? I live on a corner lot, and my driveway to my house is on the other side of the street. The people who use the sidewalk in front of my house are children waiting for the school bus (We do not have children), my neighbors when they are walking through the neighborhood. It would be a benefit to me to tear the whole sidewalk up and plant grass.

Carol Bowen 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Sidewalks are typically on city property. If possible, compare to the location of your water meter.

Hayden Maples 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Deborah/All, I am by no means an expert on the sidewalk policy but I believe there are certain conditions for which the city does pay for sidewalks (along major roadways) as well as a fund for those burdened by the cost of the repairs. Either way, the sales taxes in question do not guarantee any funding for residential sidewalk repair. That is one of the potential counter offers the city could come back with if the vote fails in November because there is some interest in that idea from groups that we have spoken with including LAN.

Bob Summers 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Let me know when the layabouts start paying their fair share. Then we can talk about the confiscation of more of my money.

Deborah Snyder 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Ms. Uffman and Mr. Jacobs; I would be happy to demonstrate the visual diffetence between a private property with a dirt path for a pedestrian walkway, and a private property with a maintained sidewalk across its girth. There is no other justifiable comparison to make. Also, I invite you to do even a minimal search online regarding the increased property value between the two examples I gave above.

Not. One. property with a professionally installed sidewalk lost that pathway due solely to foot traffic.

There is no comparison between a property owners' sidewalk, and the property-owners' streetcurb, which can be subject to deterioration by storm water drainage, car tire abuse, and street upheaval or infrastructural failure.

You are certainly entitled to a different opinion...which stops the moment you demand a tax-funded bailout for the pre-existing or current deterioration of your walkway simply because the owners (past or present) failure to maintain it stopped.

If you would not hesitate to slap contingencies on a personal property purchase for structural or infrastructural deficiency, including its grounds, then have the goid sense to expect the Exact. Same. Contingency from the public taxpayers.

Brock Masters 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Private property? I think not. If it were the property owner could control its use, choose not to put in the wheel chair cut out or remove it and put in a dirt path.

The government requires the sidewalk and forbids the owner from restricting use so it is not truly private property.

Also, the city contributes to its deterioration by forcing salt and chemical laden snow on it when clearing streets.

Steve Jacob 3 weeks, 6 days ago

If your going to throw out the word bailout a few times, isn't riding the bus a bailout? Riders only pay for 6% of it.

Deborah Snyder 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Wrong! The moment you decide to live in a community, you also must abide by the rules and regulations of that community. That is why there are zoning laws, and a monetary value to those communal enhancements called streets and sidewalks. It's what makes the sale of such property so valued over a dirt road and a worn dirt path, Mr. Masters.

Brock Masters 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Oh an exclamation point and italics....you must be right LOL.

Your own words show the fallacy of your argument. You describe them as "communal enhancements" which is the opposite of private property. And, you lump them in with streets which are maintained by the city and not the individual property owners living adjacent to the street.

Further, community rules and regulations should be equitable and if they were then all homeowners would be required to put in sidewalks, not just those on one side of a street.

Brock Masters 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Here is the definition of communal. 1. shared by all members of a community; for common use

Tell me how sidewalks, as you described as communal, I.e, for common use are private property. There are zoning laws pertaining to the house itself so is it also communal property to be used by all? Nope, it is private property and while they have to meet certain rules the owner can limit use. They cannot limit use of the sidewalk hence it is communal property just like you said.

Deborah Snyder 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Mr. Masters, since you seem to believe your arguments pose a reasonable basis for argument, I encourage you to promote and/or present your reasoning to the city council. And mind your personal derogatory comments on my posts, young man.

Brock Masters 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Deborah, you give me too much credit. I simply grabbed onto your argument that sidewalks are communal enhancements and ran with it.

We found common ground so let's celebrate it - we both agree that sidewalks are shared by members of a community and have a shared use.

We only disagree on the point of requiring only one person of a community to pay for a shared enhancement. Just doesn't seem fair to me.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I too say vote NO however not for the same reasons.

I want the tax voted down then revised:

=== I respectfully request the sales tax be absolutely dedicated to the following :

0.05 percent sales tax for transit

0.3 percent sales tax for affordable housing

0.2 percent sales tax for Complete Streets/Walkable Community/Safe routes to school.

This eliminates helter skelter spending of any of the tax dollars thus we see accomplishments.

Call for a special vote. The end product would more than pay for the cost of a special vote. A worthwhile endeavor.

The community also might want to think about pushing a no sales tax on groceries or no more than 1%.

Hayden Maples 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Richard, this is part of the idea behind the Alliance, many people have a variety of reasons for wanting to vote no. The city has already talked about future votes on sales taxes should this fail and reallocation could be part of that.

Carol Bowen 3 weeks, 6 days ago

It could be the reporting, but it looks like the LSA members are tired of taxes, in general. Fair enough, however, the information above is interwoven, confused.

  • Who should pay for sidewalks was discussed by the Pedestrian Bicycle task force that met for several months. The public had opportunities for input at that time. There have been more discussions at city commission level. Bottom line is that state law requires property owners to pay for their sidewalks. If and until Lawrence can develop an alternative way of funding sidewalks, the current law should be enforced, or the city would be liable.

  • Bus systems in any city do not support themselves with fares. There are other savings like reduced traffic volume and parking needs.

  • There appears to be an assumption that all the property tax and sales tax are distributed locally. All the revenue is sent to the state. The state distributes some of the money back to the localities. The city does not get large chunks of money. It would be helpful if the Journal World would break down the tax structure and illustrate what portion goes to the schools, the county, the city, and the state.

  • it would also be beneficial to see what percents of sales tax actually go to the city. The total we are voting on is .55%, I think. That’s about one half a percent, and it’s not an increase, it’s a continuation. The first round bought us a facility for Visiting Nurses, the bus system, and the new sports complex among other things.

  • It could be me, but I get the impression that the Journal World does not support the continuation of the sales tax. There’s just enough of a correct statement to qualify as an article rather than an opinion piece.

Hayden Maples 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Carol, We are indeed tired of taxes and other increases (state income taxes, property taxes, and city utility rates all going up). As you mentioned, the residential sidewalk issue has been discussed a number of times and is not specifically called out in the ballot language this time around. We have also not seen evidence of a completely fair-supported bus system but the national average seems to be closer to 25% than our 6 or 7. There is probably an article to reference as well but the city page has a nice breakdown of the taxes (https://lawrenceks.org/finance/property-tax/ and https://lawrenceks.org/sales-tax/). The original special sales taxes were for infrastructure and transit and were for the same .55% as you pointed out. However, since they are due to sunset in 2019, this is voting for an increase over what the rate would otherwise be if the taxes are allowed to sunset.

Carol Bowen 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Thank you for the link, Hayden. I will read it.

Deborah Snyder 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Ms. Bowen; What I am referring to as neighborhood sidewalks are in the city's right-of-way, not on city property. Anyone who thinks they can make the case that 1) their property value was not enhanced with the professional installation of sidewalks per the plat description and original homesite requirements for their neighborhood and 2) can prove that the deterioration of sidewalks on private property throughout Lawrence was due to pedestrian abuse rather than their (or their predecessors') neglect, please!

I encourage you to bring your proof/arguments/reasons and excuses to a city hall meeting to demonstrate why the taxes of everyone here should be used to repair your sidewalk.

Brock Masters 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Deborah, you stated the reason everyone should pay for their repair - as you said earlier, they are a "communal enhancement." Something that is communal should not just be used communally but maintained communally as well.

Kim Watkins 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Even if it did enhance property values, higher property values = higher property taxes for the homeowner.

Carol Bowen 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Thanks to Hayden, see attached tax millage chart of who gets what and a visual graphic to illustrate from the city’s website. Very nice.

David Holroyd 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Is it appropriate for the VOTE YES signs to be placed in the right of way of public housing?

Taxes food telephone bills land lines and cell cable internet liquor tires clothing grass seed plants car repairs dunkin donuts pop eyes slim pickens yarn barn miltons walmart purchases not mentioned dairy queen cottins johnnies Dorothy' stained glass shop...not closed in north Lawrence snacks at gas stations eldridge rooms oread rooms all other motels purchases at merc just a few mentioned...

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Sidewalks are typically on city right of way ..........

Yes I can support city maintenance of sidewalks because all of use sidewalks as a mode of transportation.

However should this occur sidewalks should eventually look and be constructed the same. I would hope the city would supply sidewalks that will last a very long time meaning no cracks anytime soon.

I am not necessarily opposed to tax funding these issues. What I am opposed to is open ended use of the tax dollars = heater skelter spending.

I prefer the affordable housing tax go to those who have specialized in such projects for some time such as Tenants to Homeowners. I do not support this tax going into housing or apartment developments. Low income residents cannot afford a home that is NOT energy efficient throughout. Using less costly construction practices is not the answer.

Tenants to Homeowners provides a high quality project designed to keep the units affordable on the long term with their energy efficient designs and construction materials.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 4 days ago

All public transportation whether it is a bus, train, or airplane is tax dollar subsidized. I believe all public transportation should be nationalized thus removing profits and high dollar CEO pay packages. Think of dramatic reduction in travel expenses.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 4 days ago

"Instead of relying on sales tax revenue, Wilbur said the city could increase fares"

Increasing the fare is the same as a tax increase which will also impact the low income...... Increasing user fees, rates etc etc etc are tax increases.

How many would accept a reduction in property assessment values? This would be a tax reduction. How much is a property worth? No one knows till it sells. Market values are not written in stone. If one rehabs a home one gets an increase in tax for doing so = how many times does one want to pay for a rehab?

These incidents did their part in shrinking market values in fact leaving some owing more than properties suddenly becoming worth less.

--- Conservatives Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/18/1352819/--The-Bush-Brothers-are-Bank-Robbers#

--- Conservatives Bush/Cheney Wall Street Home Loan Heist http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/02/25/700272/-FBI-Kills-RUSH-s-Blame-the-Borrower-Meme-and-Ignore-the-Money-Launderers-UPDATED

--- What Did Conservatives Do With $700 billion of bank bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

--- Conservatives AGAIN WAGING WAR AGAINST USA ECONOMY. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/09/did-republicans-deliberately-crash-us-economy

CONSERVTIVES are back in power so what mayor financial crisis is looming on the horizon? Brownback and our legislature has been one for Kansas.

So I say let's go for a reduction in property assessment values and go for a no tax on groceries.

David Holroyd 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Where is the list of people wanting Affordable Housing?

Is there a list?

The LIST please.

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