How paychecks, pickup trucks and guns fit into the city’s budget deliberations; name change on tap for Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau
Paychecks, pickup trucks and guns: They’re not just the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy joke. They’re also items to keep an eye on as city commissioners begin crafting a 2016 budget.
The new City Commission yesterday spent some time talking about budget issues and other spending matters. As we reported, the police headquarters topic certainly garnered some discussion. But that wasn’t all that got discussed. City Manager David Corliss said there are at least three big topics that commissioners need to be aware of as they figure out the spending plan. Here’s a look:
— Paychecks: Corliss said he believes compensation issues — i.e. how much city employees are paid — is going to be a “dominant” issue in the city’s budget discussions for 2016. The city has held wages relatively steady for most employees for the last several years. Corliss said he thinks changes in the marketplace will make it difficult for the city to take that approach and still keep valued city employees.
“I have seen wages start to move over the last 18 months in this region,” Corliss said. “We’re going to have to raise our wages to be more competitive.”
— Pickup trucks. Well, really we’re talking about equipment in general, but pickup trucks certainly are included in that category. Corliss, who is in the final weeks of his job here before he takes a town manager position in Colorado, was straightforward in his assessment of how city commissioners have treated the city’s equipment budget over the last few years.
“I don’t want to get too preachy as I leave here, but generally we have said let’s cut back on some of our maintenance or delay some equipment purchases, because we haven’t said no to a lot of things,” Corliss said.
For what it is worth, Corliss wasn’t chastising commissioners for those decisions. Lawrence isn’t the only place that has taken that strategy during tight budgets, but he was pointing out that there is a limit to how often you can go to that well. Corliss said he is concerned that the city’s equipment fleet needs some significant upgrades.
— Guns. Members of the public bringing guns into Municipal Court and City Hall is a concern for staff members. If you remember, legislators in 2013 passed a law that says cities can’t stop licensed concealed carry holders from bringing their weapons into government buildings, unless those building have extensive security systems such as metal detectors. If you also remember, the Legislature this year passed a law saying you will no longer have to have a license in order to carry a concealed firearm.
Cities were given a four-year grace period from the 2013 law. In other words, City Hall and Municipal Court can still be a no-gun zone, even though neither has the required metal detectors or security systems in place. That exemption will expire at the end of 2017.
City Attorney Toni Wheeler said it is not too early for commissioners to begin thinking about how they want to deal with that pending issue. She oversees the city’s Municipal Court, and she said she has real concerns about allowing defendants to enter a court building with a loaded weapon.
“We often deal with people who aren’t happy to be there or are angry,” Wheeler told commissioners. “We deal with a high percentage of defendants who have a mental illness. I am very concerned about security and safety at the building.”
We’ll see whether the issue really gets much discussion during this budget session, or whether commissioners wait another year and see if the law changes.
As far as potential costs, they are significant but not crippling to the city. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would cost about $5,000 for every metal detector it required for a building. The larger cost would be for employees to staff the detectors. The police department has said a proper security plan may require two people at a detector. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would take $42,000 per person to staff a metal detector. To implement such a system at Municipal Court and City Hall would mean a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, each and every year. I’m sure those numbers probably haven’t gone down since 2013 either, so look for new numbers if the issue indeed does become a topic of conversation this budget season.
An interesting twist to the conversation will be whether city commissioners think other city-owned buildings also should have metal detectors. The public access area of the police department building at Bob Billings and Wakarusa certainly will get some discussion. Recreation centers are another one that may get debated. If the city decides it needs metal detectors at recreation centers, the costs could approach $1 million a year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready to Explore Lawrence. I’ve gotten word that the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau is scrapping its longtime name, and soon will be known as Explore Lawrence.
That is just one of several changes that are taking place at the organization. Fred Conboy, the director for Destination Management Inc. — the nonprofit group that oversees the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area — resigned in February. I haven’t been given any particular details about why he resigned, other than it was just a decision that he made. Megan Gilliland, the city’s communications manager, has been serving as the interim director for DMI.
Gilliland said the idea of changing the name of the CVB has been in the works for awhile. She said the idea of a convention and visitors bureau can sometimes be hard for the average traveler to understand.
“Explore Lawrence is an action-oriented phrase,” Gilliland said. “It calls people to do something.”
A major part of the new name will be a new website. Gilliland said the new site will make it much easier for visitors and Lawrence residents alike to find out information about events and attractions in Lawrence and Douglas County. Look for that website to be launched in the next few weeks.
I plan to write more about the new direction at the CVB later today, so check back for more details.
City estimates it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep concealed weapons out of city buildings
It appears the city soon will have to buy hundreds thousands of dollars worth of security measures. Either that, or the city will have to learn to live with a new state law that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring firearms into City Hall and other city buildings.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider formally asking the Kansas Attorney General for an exemption from the new state law until Jan. 1, 2014. The state law — approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this session — essentially contains an automatic one-year exemption period for local governments. The city also may be able to get three additional one-year exemptions, although that is less certain.
The law no longer allows city or county buildings to be posted with the "no gun" signs that make it illegal for anyone, including concealed-carry permit holders, to bring a concealed weapon into the buildings. Under the new law, governments can only post those signs if the buildings have adequate security measures, such as metal detectors and security officers.
Lawrence city officials have begun calculating the cost to purchase and staff such metal detectors. A memo from City Attorney Toni Wheeler estimates it will cost about $5,000 for each metal detector, plus at least $42,000 a year for a single police officer to staff the metal detector—and the Lawrence Police Department, Wheeler wrote, believes two officers may be necessary for each detector. That would place the annual operating costs for the program at more than $84,000 for each building with a detector. And the cost may be even greater, because the personnel numbers represent starting salaries and don’t factor in benefit costs or other costs to equip a police officer.
Wheeler says at least three city buildings — City Hall, Lawrence Municipal Court and the public access area of the Police Department’s Investigations and Training Center — all warrant consideration for security systems. Beyond those three, city commissioners also would have to decide whether recreation centers and other city offices need the security measures.
New security costs for the city are expected to be addressed in the City Manager’s recommended 2014 budget, which is scheduled to be released in July. The costs could add up. If the city decided to include recreation centers in the program, there would be a total of nine buildings to equip and staff. At a minimum of $42,000 per building, that's almost $400,000 a year, plus the cost of the metal detectors. At $84,000 per building — which would be the case if two officers are required — it would be more than $750,000 a year.
But say you wanted to have security measures in place for every city-owned building that currently prohibits concealed firearms. The city currently has 47 buildings listed in its administrative policy, which means it would cost $3.9 million to provide a two-member security detail at every location. That, of course, is not going to happen. It probably would be a bit odd to have a metal detector at the city’s Landscape Shop or the Wastewater Treatment Plant, for example. Those places probably will become buildings where concealed-carry permit holders can have a weapon.
It will be interesting to see how city commissioners react to the new legislation. The previous City Commission sent a letter to the legislature objecting to the bill while it was under consideration. Whether the city’s objections rise to the level of spending more than a half-million dollars on security each year, I don’t know. The city already spends some money on security: a police officer attends each Lawrence City Commission meeting, and a bailiff is employed by the Lawrence Municipal Court.
If the city gets serious about installing metal detectors, there will be quite a few items to discuss. It probably would require the public entrances at City Hall to be changed significantly, since there are three ways for the public to enter City Hall. The city also could have a discussion about whether security officers — rather than fully sworn police officers — would be appropriate to staff the metal detectors. That may reduce the personnel cost for a security program.
And then there are city buildings such as the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Arts Center that attract large crowds on a regular basis. How would they be secured and staffed?
Of course, the city always could have the discussion of whether any harm would come from allowing licensed individuals to carry a weapon in city buildings. According to the Kansas Attorney General’s office, it already is legal for concealed-carry permit holders to carry a weapon on various pieces of city property. Every city-owned park, for example, is a place where concealed-carry permit holders are entitled to have a weapon. “Parks, parking lots and other open public property" are no longer able to be restricted through signs, according to the Attorney General’s Web site. That didn’t always use to be the case, but the law was changed, I believe, during the 2010 legislative session.
City commissioners won’t be the only ones that get to have this fun. Douglas County also will have to go through the same exercise with its buildings, although it already has a metal detector for the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Public schools won’t have to install metal detectors under the new law. School officials can continue to post the "no gun" signs on school buildings, which will make it illegal for concealed-carry permit holders to bring a weapon into the building.