Lawrence City Commission to consider adding nearly $1.4 million to current year’s budget, including 9.5 new city staff positions

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Lawrence city leaders will soon consider whether to approve changes that would add nearly $1.4 million to the city’s budget — and nine full-time positions and one part-time position to city staff — for this year.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider authorizing an adjustment to the city’s 2021 budget to include the additional expense of $1.379 million, which includes the 9.5 positions and other costs. The additional positions and expenses, which city staff are recommending to help meet some of the commission’s strategic plan goals, will be offset by some other savings, but could potentially require increases in property taxes or other revenues, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Because the coronavirus pandemic caused delays in the completion of the commission’s strategic plan and financial uncertainty, the commission approved a “placeholder” budget for 2021, with the expectation of making quarterly budget adjustments throughout the year. As the Journal-World reported in January, the city originally planned for multimillion-dollar revenue losses amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that worst-case scenario did not occur, putting the city in a stronger-than-anticipated financial position going into this year.

The memo states that since the budget was adopted, critical needs in the city’s internal support departments have been identified, including the need for several new positions. Those are a community engagement coordinator, a media/creative specialist, a payroll manager, a payroll analyst, an assistant city attorney, a purchasing administrator, a buyer to assist the purchasing administrator, a cyber security manager, a help desk technician and an administrative technician. In addition, city staff is recommending increasing the pay of the city-county sustainability director by $10,000 because of an increase in the position’s responsibilities.

Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay told the Journal-World in an email that if approved, the additional expenditures would be incorporated into the 2022 recommended budget, for which work is already underway. Toomay said the costs would be spread across the city’s operating funds, which are supported by a variety of revenue streams.

Regarding whether it is likely that the expenses would require an increase in property taxes, service charges or other fees, Toomay said that in most years, the city experiences some growth in revenue and that growth may be sufficient to cover the extra costs. In addition, she said staff has identified reductions and budget savings that should minimize the net impact of the proposal.

The memo states that if those savings aren’t sufficient to cover the costs, increases in revenues — such as property taxes, charges for services and fees — might be necessary in the future. The cost of the additional positions will need to be prioritized against other expenditures as part of the 2022 budget process.

For this year, any net increase in costs would be covered using the city’s fund balance, which functions as the city’s savings account.

The commission also recently asked city staff what resources would be needed to enable the planning divisions to help more neighborhoods create neighborhood plans, and an alternative proposal would add another four positions if the commission would like to support that process. That option would call for a total of 13.5 new positions and a total increase of $1.59 million in expenditures, according to the memo.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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