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Better off in Lawrence? An answer by the numbers.
After listening to the catch phrase "Are you better off?" over and over during the last few weeks, I started to wonder what the answer to that was for Lawrence residents. I know that I personally can answer "Yes" to that question, but what about the average Lawrencian?
So I hit the books, studying the budgets from the City of Lawrence for the last several years, which have lots of great information-- not just on the spending of the city, but also on demographic and employment numbers of it's residents. The results are telling. I plan to break down several major categories, including taxation, housing, unemployment, crime and income. I will compare numbers from 2009 (when the economy crisis hit rock bottom for most of America) to the most recent numbers that are available from these budgetary reports.
Taxation - Mill Levies 2009
Taxation - Mill Levies 2012
So, mill levies have increased 5.2% in the last several years. This is from all sources combined, including the State of Kansas, Douglas County, USD 497 and the City of Lawrence. The schools and the City in particular have raised their rates over the last three years, and the city of Lawrence is asking for another increase for the 2013 Budget, for Police equipment and a pavement marking project. In a promising change, USD 497 has decreased their mills for 2013 by two-tenths of a mill to 59.263. Many of the City's increases over these last three years appear to have been for projects and improvements that the commission has approved, and not as much to cover budgetary shortfalls.
Taxation - Sales Tax 2009
State of Kansas 6.30%
City of Lawrence 1.55%
Douglas County 1.00%
Taxation - Sales Tax 2012
State of Kansas 6.30%
City of Lawrence 1.55%
Douglas County 1.00%
So, while these numbers are completely unchanged in that time, change is on the horizon. The state will drop sales tax rates by six-tenths of a cent in July 2013, and Mayor Schumm has proposed a half-cent increase to take effect also in July 2013, to fund the police facility improvements, among other things.
Taxation - Verdict: No, we are not better off in regards to taxation. With cuts to education from the state, USD 497 has had to compensate by increasing its levy in the last three years. The adopted reduction for 2013 from the school district is a good sign that finances are changing for the better in our local education system. The city has consistently raised mill levies every year since 2009, and has earmarked much of that money for improvement projects. It's my opinion that some of this tax burden could be lessened if not so many of these pet projects had been approved by the Commissioners.
Housing - New Residential Permits 2009
In 2009, 141 new residential (single, duplex and multi-family) building permits were issued by the City.
Housing - New Residential Permits 2012
The most recent report for 2012 is from June. As of the end of June 2012, the city had issued 87 new residential (single, duplex and multi-family) building permits. Based on the pattern of 2011 building permits, 57% of the residential permits for the year were issued Jan-Jun. If that pattern holds true, then 43% of the residential building permits for the year will be issued Jul-Dec. Based on this assumption, I project that the city will issue an additional 65.6 residential permits this year, for a total of 152.6 permits.
Housing - Property Valuation 2009
The assessed value of all of the property in the city was $853,676,870.
Housing - Property Valuation 2011
Valuation numbers for 2012 are not yet available, but in 2011, the assessed value was $856,611,007.
Housing - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of housing. New building permits for 2012 are being issued at a rate I project to be an 8.2% increase compared to 2009. Valuation of the property in the city has increased $2.9 million dollars when 2011 is compared to 2009, or a growth of $1.46 million per year. If that rate holds steady, Lawrence will be worth $4.4 million more by the end of 2012 than it was in 2009. This may be a drop in the bucket, but it IS an increase in value.
Unemployment - 2009
City of Lawrence: 5.4%
State of Kansas: 6.7%
(2010 was actually the peak of unemployment rates in the city and our state, at 6.2% and 7.0% respectively.)
Unemployment - 2012
City of Lawrence: 5.2%
State of Kansas: 6.1%
Number of Jobs at Major Local Employers - 2009
The Top 10 largest employers in Lawrence provided at least 18,875 jobs. (I did not include the duplicate count for DCCCA that is on the budget. I counted the remaining 10 on the list, however.)
Number of Jobs at Major Local Employers - 2012
The Top 10 largest employers in Lawrence provided at least 18,148 jobs.
Employment - Verdict: Yes, we are better off. While the number of jobs provided by the top 10 Lawrence employers has not changed significantly (mostly due to the downsizing of the World Company), the unemployment rate for Lawrence overall has gone from 5.4% in 2009 to 5.2% in 2012. Again, that is a small difference, but it is a hopeful sign that more recovery is on the horizon. Another good sign is the new call center opening in the former Affinitas location at Riverfront Mall. This company will provide an additional 300 new jobs to the Lawrence economy, which alone will account for another future three-tenths of a percent reduction in Lawrence unemployment (based on 2010 census numbers).
Crime - 2009
Violent Crime Index 4.6
Property Crime Index 57.6
Total Crime Index 62.2 (the 2009 budget incorrectly lists the total as 72.2)
Crime - 2012
Violent Crime Index 4.2
Property Crime Index 38.4
Total Crime Index 42.6
Crime - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of criminal activity in Lawrence. Despite little to no change in the size of our police force (142 patrol officers in 2009, 144 in 2012), both violent and property crimes have dropped, with overall crime decreasing by 29.6%. The real telling number is the number of property crimes (theft, etc) has decreased by a third in the last three years.
Income - 2009
The average income per capita in Lawrence was $23,070.
The average household income in Lawrence was $40,547.
The average family income in Lawrence was $61,776.
Income - 2012
The average income per capita in Lawrence is $34,305.
The average household income in Lawrence is $41,290.
The average family income in Lawrence is $65,673.
Income - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of income. Personal income has increased by 48.6%. Household income has increased by 1.8%. Family income has increased by 6.3%.
On the whole, the average Lawrencian is better off than they were in 2009. While taxation has increased, housing is being built at a higher rate, property values are higher, unemployment is lower, crime is lower, and average incomes are higher. Growth in these areas is a positive sign that life is coming back into our economy, albeit slowly. While you still might need to answer the question of whether YOU are better off, and if that should affect your decision when you go to the polls in November-- you should be aware that on average, your friends and neighbors are doing better than they were 4 years ago.