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Posts tagged with City Budget

City prepares to approve budget tonight, including $62 million worth of road and infrastructure projects

Here are three things that were discussed frequently on my family's recent weeklong vacation through the northern Plains: Roadwork (there was a lot of it), budgets (there was not enough of those), and "Full House" (for approximately 1,400 miles, episodes of the once popular Olsen twins sitcom played continuously, thanks to an in-car DVD player and my 7-year old daughter.)

It appears that at least two of the three will be topics at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting — hopefully, budgets and roadwork.

Commissioners tonight are set to give final approval to the city's 2014 budget. We've previously reported the basics: A $185 million budget that increases spending by about 6 percent and the city's property tax rate by about 0.5 of a mill. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay about $12 per year extra in property taxes, as a result of the rate increase.

But one important part of the city's budget that doesn't always get a lot of public attention is its list of capital projects that it plans to undertake in the next year. The city has about $15.2 million worth of road projects and other infrastructure purchases on its to-do list in 2014. Here's a look at some of the more notable undertakings:

• $1.7 million for reconstruction of the intersection at 23rd and Iowa streets. Expect new turn lanes and greater vehicle capacity. The project is being funded through state and federal dollars.

• $2 million for the first phase of the 31st Street extension in eastern Lawrence. When completed, the project will extend 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. Work will be going on during the same time that construction is occurring on the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The city will use property taxes to fund the project.

• $2.5 million to rebuild a portion of Wakarusa Drive from Oread West to Legends Drive. Proceeds from the city's infrastructure sales tax will be used to fund the project.

• $42,000 to begin engineering work on a future project to improve Kasold Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Harvard Road.

• $2 million to begin work on a new Maple Street pump station to help alleviate stormwater flooding issues in North Lawrence. Funding will come from the city's infrastructure sales tax.

• $1.5 million to possibly purchase a site or begin design work for a new police headquarters facility. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $400,000 to improve the city's fiber optic and broadband system. The project will improve fiber optic connectivity between city-owned buildings, traffic signals and other structures, but also may put the city in a position to begin offering some of its fiber optic network for use by private broadband providers. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.05 million for renovation of the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence. About $350,000 of the funding will come from property taxes, with the rest coming from a federal/state grant.

• $275,000 to install a traffic signal at George Williams Way and Bob Billings Parkway. The intersection is expected to become significantly busier once the new South Lawrence Trafficway interchange opens on Bob Billings Parkway.

• $750,000 to build a new public transit transfer facility. A temporary facility currently is located downtown, but staff members are exploring an area near the The Merc at Ninth and Iowa streets for a permanent facility. Funding will come from a transit reserve fund.

• $1 million to fund technology upgrades at the city and county's 911 center. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.2 million to replace a quint fire engine. Funding comes from both sales tax and property tax funds.

The really big builders in the city's budget, though, are in the city's Utilities Department. The city has budgeted $47.2 million worth of water and sewer projects in 2014.

A big part of that will be making your water taste better. The city has budgeted $17.9 million worth of work to improve taste and odor issues that occasionally occur when algae blooms become significant at Clinton Lake or on the Kansas River.

I would expect this project will get more discussion before commissioners actually approve any spending on the project. By putting it in the 2014 budget, that gives the city the legal authority to spend the money on the project, but commissioners may still decide that's too much to spend on the intermittent taste and odor issues.

The other big utilities project is $14.8 million worth of work on a new sewage treatment plant for south of the Wakarusa River. This will be a multiyear project. When it is done by 2017, the project is expected to cost about $65 million.

Those projects will be funded by increased water and sewer rates, which also are up for approval at tonight's meeting. The budget proposes an approximately 5 percent increase in the monthly water and sewer bills for an average household. That comes after commissioners approved a 6 percent rate increase in 2013.

A household that uses 8,000 gallons of water a month would pay $76.21 in monthly water and sewer fees, up from $72.34 under the current rates. City staff members have put together a chart that shows how Lawrence's rates compare with other cities in the area. An 8,000 gallon bill ranges from $61.69 in Manhattan to $102.65 in Gardner. Click here to see the full list.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today. This basically is the last chance for the public to make comment about the 2014 budget. Historically, the city's budget discussions haven't produced a full house. But who knows? Maybe it will tonight. I'm fine either way — as long as I don't have to listen to the Olsen twins.

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Humane Society preparing to fight for budget increase; commissioners asked to provide $25,000 in unbudgeted funds for Just Food

It may end up being an interesting evening at Lawrence City Hall tonight because commissioners are set to talk about two items people fiercely guard: pets and money.

Commissioners are nearing the key point in the 2014 budget process where they set the maximum amount of money they are willing to spend for the year.

It looks like a movement is afoot by the Lawrence Humane Society to fill City Hall tonight with people who will argue the city ought to spend more money on pets. Specifically, the Humane Society is seeking about an $80,000 increase in its 2014 budget. City Manager David Corliss is recommending a $20,000 increase, but leaders of the animal shelter are going to argue for the full amount.

Their argument is where the issue gets interesting. Nonprofit agencies ask for more money from the city all the time, but the Humane Society is a bit different of a breed of nonprofit agencies. That’s because the Humane Society is providing a service that by law the city would have to otherwise provide, according to Humane Society executive director Dori Villalon. State law requires that cities have a process in place to impound stray animals. The Humane Society provides that service to the city, and in return the city provided the shelter about $282,000 in funding in 2013.

But Villalon says the shelter recently has begun using a new computer software system that better tracks the actual expenses involved in housing stray animals. After analyzing the numbers, shelter leaders believe the current contract the shelter has with the city falls about $80,000 short of covering its expenses to meet the state-mandated requirement that cities impound stray animals for a certain period of time.

“It is imperative that we close this gap,” Villalon said in a recent letter to commissioners. “LHS (the shelter) isn’t looking to profit from the city contract, but simply cover the cost of providing service, thus protecting the future of our nonprofit organization.”

In case you are wondering, the shelter provided care to 1,665 stray or abandoned cats and dogs from the city in 2012.

When I asked Corliss last week about the shelter’s analysis that the city contract doesn’t cover the basic cost of services, he didn’t dispute it. I’m not sure he has confirmed those numbers either, but rather he said his recommended $20,000 increase is what he could justify without raising the property tax mill levy. Corliss estimates it would take a 0.07 mill increase to fully fund the Humane Society's budget request. That would be on top of a 0.4 mill increase Corliss is recommending to fund other budget issues.

That philosophy is commonly used by the city when determining how much funding it can provide to a host of social service agencies and nonprofits in the community. But the real question here is whether the city is providing financial support to a nonprofit or whether it is being asked to pay for services rendered.

Shelter leaders are indicating it is the latter. The shelter provides a service the city is required to provide, and the city needs to pay an amount to cover the cost of those services. That’s the argument.

Villalon indicated in her letter to commissioners that the shelter — perhaps for years — has been using donations from community members to cover the shortfall that exists between what it costs to provide the state-mandated care and what the city currently pays.

Villalon said the proper use for those donations is to provide care that goes over and above what is mandated by the state law. The law requires stray or abandoned animals to be kept for only a short period of time. Shelters, to avoid euthanizing animals, can choose to keep them for a longer period while they seek to find a family to adopt the pets.

According to the letter and the shelter’s Facebook page, shelter leaders are encouraging supporters of the Humane Society to show up at City Hall tonight to support the budget increase. Shelter leaders are couching the issue in terms of saving lives of animals. In an information sheet the shelter is distributing to supporters, the shelter says if the funding request isn’t granted, “euthanasia of treatable animals may increase.”

Historically, the euthanasia issue has been a hot-button issue in Lawrence, which is a community that seems to really be a pet-loving place. We’ll see how hot the issue gets tonight. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.

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UPDATE: City Hall officials have gotten in touch with me today to clarify how they can provide the $25,000 in funding for Just Food without dipping into cash reserves or shortchanging other programs. City Manager David Corliss said he plans to reduce by $25,000 the amount of money that will be spent on sidewalk repair in the city's general fund. That money will be used to pay for the Just Food truck. The sidewalk work will be funded through the $25,000 in CDBG money that had been set aside with the thought it would fund the Just Food truck purchase. By shifting the sidewalk work out of the city's general fund to the CDBG fund, it will limit where the city can perform sidewalk projects. The CDBG funds must spent in one of the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, such as Oread, Pinckney, East Lawrence or several others.

We’ll go from hot to cold to perhaps back to hot again. Commissioners as part of their consent agenda tonight will be asked to provide $25,000 in funding to the nonprofit food bank Just Food. The organization is run by City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer. The one-time funding will help the organization buy a refrigerated truck that will allow the food bank to collect meat, dairy and other such donations from grocery stores and convenience stores.

We reported in May that Just Food was seeking the city’s assistance to apply for federal funding for the truck through the city’s Community Development Block Program. But word has come back that the truck isn’t eligible for such funding, so now city staff members are recommending that $25,000 in local tax dollars be used to pay for the vehicle.

Plans for the truck do sound promising. Farmer has said it will be used to go to grocery stores, restaurants, convenience shops and other locations that often have to dispose of aging meat, dairy and produce. Currently, Just Food doesn’t have a way to transport refrigerated material from the stores to its distribution center in East Lawrence. Consequently, Farmer estimates grocers and other are throwing away “thousands of dollars of food per week.” Most of the perishable items are pulled off the shelves several days before their expiration dates, which gives Just Food time to distribute it to needy families.

But the timing of this $25,000 unbudgeted expenditure — which would be made in 2013 — may be unfortunate. City commissioners will be asked to approve it right before they are set to talk about how difficult it is to provide funding to worthy causes in 2014.

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Proposed budget would reduce free parking downtown, limit funding for retiree marketing

In my household, July means the start of two seasons: This is about the time that my wife’s refusal to turn on the air conditioner causes the kids and I to set up Gatorade stations throughout the house, and it is when city officials really start to dive into their budgeting process.

Fortunately, the weather has been cool this week, so there’s been plenty of time to focus on the budget. We’ve already reported that City Manager David Corliss’ recommended budget for 2014 calls for a 0.4 mill increase, which amounts to about $9.20 per year in extra taxes on a $200,000 home.

But the budget has a lot more details in it than just the bottomline. Here’s a look at a few other items of interest:

• There may be one fewer place for downtown motorists to park for free. As part of his budget, Corliss is proposing that the top level of the public parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street no longer be available for free parking. City officials several years ago agreed to make the top level of the garage free to park as a way to encourage more use of the garage. Usage of the garage, however, is not expected to be a problem in the future. Already, demand is up because of the multi-story apartment building at 901 New Hampshire, and more motorists are expected to be in the area as a new hotel/retail building gets built on the southeast corner of the intersection. By the way, hotel developer Doug Compton has told me he expects to get started on construction of the hotel around July 10.

• Perhaps we won’t get to make those fun commercials to attract retirees to Lawrence after all. Corliss’ budget does not recommend funding $30,000 for an annual marketing campaign to attract more retirees to the community. This will be an interesting one to watch because the city and county already have spent good money to get the ball rolling on retiree attraction. In January, commissioners agreed, along with the county, to award a $34,500 contract to Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract higher-end retirees to the area. The contract calls for the group to create a title/slogan, a logo, a Web site, a package for marketing materials, and concepts for various print, broadcast and online advertising. Kern was up-front with officials that he expected it would take an advertising budget of about $60,000 to $80,000 a year to get the message out. If city officials don’t chip in $30,000 for the effort, I’m not sure where that leaves the commitment from the county or private stakeholders who may have made donations. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, a fantastic advertising campaign hangs in the balance. I can see the commercial now: Retirees doing keg stands and streaking down Jayhawk Boulevard, followed by the tag line of “Lawrence: Where you are never old enough to know better.”

• Of all the books in the Lawrence Public Library, there must not be one entitled: How to Get Your Budget Request Fully-Funded at City Hall. Corliss is recommending a $100,000 increase in funding for the library as it prepares to move into its expanded facility downtown. But library leaders had asked for $175,000 increase. It is not unusual for agencies not to get everything they ask for, but how Corliss is proposing to fund this $100,000 increase is unusual. He recommends that the library fund dip into its rather paltry cash reserves to fund the $100,000 increase rather than raising the mill levy to do so. The library fund has about $235,000 in cash reserves, so this increase will eat up a good part of it. The strategy goes against the grain of one of Corliss’ long-held budget philosophies that permanent expenses need to be funded by permanent revenue sources. But in talking with Corliss, I think he is just hoping to buy time until the 2015 budget. The library’s first full year in its new facility will be 2015, and Corliss has said he has not forgotten what city officials told voters when they approved the $19 million expansion of the library. Officials told voters that they would provide the library additional money to operate the larger library. It was estimated a 0.5 mill increase would be needed for additional operational expenses. Thus far, the city only has funded a 0.2 mill increase for library operations. My crystal ball tells me to be on the lookout for a 0.3 mill increase in the 2015 budget.

• The new Rock Chalk Park recreation center will have a goal to shoot for — sort of. The 2014 recommended budget calls for the recreation center to generate about $715,000 in revenue, if it were to be open for a full year. But it won’t be open for a full year in 2014, so it won’t generate that much revenue. But that’s the number the city is shooting for once it is open full-time. As city officials said all along, the amount of revenue the center generates won’t be enough to cover its expenses. The 2014 budget — once again assuming a full year of operation — projects expenses for the center will be about $350,000 more than revenues. I believe revenues for the center will include things such as gym rental fees, class fees generated by the center, tournament and league revenue and concessions.

Ah, concessions. Maybe they’ll have a good deal on Gatorade. My kids and I sure hope so.

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