Lawrence voters reject sales tax for $28 million police headquarters
Lawrence voters on Tuesday narrowly rejected a citywide sales tax to fund a new police headquarters, likely ensuring the issue will be hotly debated in the upcoming City Commission election.
Voters rejected the proposed 0.2 percent sales tax by a margin of about 52 percent to 48 percent. The measure was defeated by 915 votes, according to the unofficial totals from the Douglas County Clerk’s office.
“Obviously, I think the next step is we need to listen to the public and see what their expectations are of meeting the needs of public safety,” said Mayor Mike Amyx, who supported the sales tax. “I obviously have some learning to do here.”
There are few tangible steps the City Commission can take on the project between now and the April City Commission elections. The commission, for instance, can’t simply raise property taxes to build the headquarters. The soonest the City Commission could raise the mill levy would be for the 2016 budget, which will be debated in the summer of 2015. By that time, the make-up of the City Commission could be different. Voters will fill three of the five seats on the commission in April.
Police HQ vote, breakdown by precinct
Amyx said he believes the police headquarters could be a major issue for the election. He said he believes the public does see the need for better police facilities. Department leaders have said their aging, undersized facilities create great inefficiencies. The department currently has staff split between two primary locations and stores evidence and equipment at four other locations. Amyx said he thinks the public may be receptive to a revised police headquarters plan at a later time.
“We have a lot of projects going on right now,” Amyx said. “Maybe it was just a point where the public said we are going to slow down for a bit.”
Opponents of the project were painting Tuesday’s defeat as a signal that voters are displeased with how commissioners are running the city.
“This never has been an issue of being against the police facility,” said Greg Robinson, a leader of Lawrencians Against the New Police Headquarters. “This has been about the process and the credibility of the commission.”
At the polls on Tuesday, several voters said they were concerned about the regressive nature of a sales tax and also expressed displeasure with how the city had planned for the facility. The police headquarters project was presented to voters after city commissioners decided to use about $25 million in available funding for the controversial Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence.
“I don’t like the idea of a new tax now,” said Diana Lehmann, who voted at the Douglas County Senior Center on Tuesday. “I think they need to be responsible in how they are budgeting for this.”
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who is slated to become mayor in April, said he is disappointed that pent up anger over the Rock Chalk Park issue became a factor in the police department vote.
“It is unfortunate that pent up frustration and distrust were taken out on a group of people who didn’t deserve it,” Farmer said. “We have to figure out a way to unite this community.”
Police Chief Tarik Khatib said he was disappointed in Tuesday’s vote, but said residents can be assured the department will continue to do the best it can with the current facilities.
“What needs to happen next is we need to continue the conversation,” Khatib said. “I’m confident the need is not going to go away.”