Lawrence City Commission adopts 2019 budget, will consider new budgeting program for next year
photo by: Mike Yoder
Lawrence city commissioners gave final approval to a budget and indicated they are interested in implementing a new budgeting program that aims to help the city better prioritize how it spends its money.
The city’s 2019 budget, which the commission formally adopted Tuesday, holds the property tax rate flat, increases utility rates and provides millions of dollars for new projects. The $206.5 million budget calls for a 7.8 percent increase in the rates for water and sewer and a 3 percent increase for stormwater. City utility bills for the typical household will go up about $60 per year, according to city estimates.
The commission also received a presentation from the Center for Priority Based Budgeting as part of its work session Tuesday. Chris Fabian, founder of the center, told the commission that the purpose of a priority-based budgeting program is to help the city examine its expenses and revenues and figure out how it is going to provide the funding for services it wants to enhance or start.
“The purpose of priority-based budgeting is to help a city like Lawrence, or any sort of community, figure out how they are going to provide the resources for the future they want to build,” Fabian said.
The program aims to help cities provide more funding for their identified priorities by reallocating resources and generating new revenue, according to the presentation. Means of reallocating resources could include partnering with public or private providers for certain services, making greater use of technology or volunteers and reducing or eliminating low-priority programs. Means of generating new revenue could include increasing fees to cover the cost of a service, obtaining new grant funding or, as a last resort, increasing taxes and rates.
Cities begin the program by dividing services and programs into four priority levels, and then identifying how much funding they are devoting to those services and programs and whether it is in line with the priority designations. Fabian said some communities find they are spending a disproportionate share of their resources on lower-priority programming. Fabian also said priority-based budgeting reviews city programs to determine if the fees the city charges for services are covering costs.
The commission identified some of its priorities as part of its strategic planning process last year and plans to revisit those priorities every two years. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she thinks the priority-based budgeting metrics will be helpful.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to have a reality check and see what are we really spending our money on,” Larsen said.
Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay told the commission they would bring a contract for the priority based budgeting program back to the commission for consideration, and that if the contract is approved, the commission could have the program in place for the 2020 budget discussion, which will begin in the spring.