New numbers will likely mean reductions to city manager’s recommended budget

photo by: Mike Yoder

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

Even as City Manager Tom Markus presented his recommended budget to the Lawrence City Commission Tuesday, he advised that some of the numbers will change — potentially calling for reductions to what is proposed if the property tax rate is to remain flat.

Markus said updated numbers will be presented to the commission on July 10, and the city will need direction on what’s acceptable and what changes commissioners would like to make.

He said that, while he hoped some numbers would move in the right direction between now and then, the overall changes to revenue and expenses could make the budget tighter.

“You’re going to probably see some revenue differences and you’ll probably see some expense differences, both probably going in the wrong directions — meaning, revenues a little bit less and expenses a little bit more than what we’ve shown tonight,” Markus said. “So (city staff members) are going to have to take a hard look at those things, too.”

For one, Markus said that, earlier in the day, the county provided the city an estimate of a 5.3 percent increase in home values, which is less than what the city used in the recommended budget. The budget assumes a 6 percent growth in assessed valuation. Based on that estimate and the median Lawrence home value of $175,500, the current city mill levy rate would result in the average resident paying $10 more per year, according to budget estimates. Markus said that city staff had estimated the change from 6 to 5.3 percent would result in a $130,000 decline in the general fund, but that those numbers would be verified and brought back to the commission.

Markus said he would also like to look at the city’s numerous funding agreements with Douglas County. The city and county partner to fund services such as the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department, Planning and Development Services and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. City staff indicated in a presentation that, in some of those agreements, taxpayers in other cities in Douglas County and the unincorporated parts of the county are not paying an equitable share of those services, meaning that Lawrence taxpayers essentially subsidize those services.

Markus said that, although the partnerships provide efficiencies for both entities, so that services aren’t duplicated, he would like to start taking a look at those agreements one by one. He said that will likely take a lot of facilitation back-and-forth, but that the city wants to get those conversations started.

“Lawrence, Douglas County and the other cities in Douglas County are still way ahead of the curve on collaboration, and that’s not something you want to discourage,” Markus said. “But, from my perspective, I don’t think we can ignore the equity issue.”

The recommended operating budget totals about $206 million and proposes the city’s mill levy rate remain flat at 33.279 mills. The budget calls for an increase in the rates for water, sewer and storm water. If adopted, city utility bills for the typical household would go up about $58 per year. The budget estimates that residents will see about a 4 percent increase in the cost of all city services next year, due to increased utility rates and the rising home values.

As proposed, next year’s budget would see $14.6 million of unfunded capital improvement projects, personnel requests and equipment purchases. Those include unfunded requests for additional personnel in both the police and fire and medical departments, which both the police and fire chiefs noted in their presentation to commissioners. The recommended budget does include a net increase of 3.5 positions, two of which are civilian hires in the police department that would allow two officers currently serving in those positions to move to patrol.

City staff will bring back updated revenue and expenditure figures at the commission’s July 10 work session. The commission will consider publication of the budget July 17, and a public hearing will be held on Aug. 7.


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