Discussion to continue on $99.5M city project list for 2022; city leaders want more information on street funding

The Lawrence City Commission and members of city staff discuss the city's capital project list as part of the commission's meeting June 8, 2021.

Though city leaders have yet to give staff directions regarding changes they would like to see in the city’s proposed capital project list, future discussions will likely include whether the level of funding allocated to street repairs is sufficient.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission received the 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Plan recommended by city management. The CIP includes all the proposed projects and purchases that exceed $100,000, as well as the city’s vehicle and equipment replacement plan and maintenance plan.

Finance Director Jeremy Willmoth asked commissioners to let city staff know if there were any unfunded projects that they thought should receive funding or any projects that were currently funded that they did not want to receive funding.

Unfunded projects include $500,000 for an indoor firing range for police, $1 million toward a future fire station and $800,000 toward an expansion of the Holcom Park Recreation Center. The Municipal Services and Operations department requested $10.4 million for its street maintenance program for 2022, but the CIP only recommends that about $5.5 million be allocated to the program.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said that she was not ready to provide direction on changes to the CIP at this point, because she wanted to further study the plan. But Larsen said she did want to know whether the level of street maintenance funding included in the CIP was sufficient to address some of the maintenance needs. Commissioner Jennifer Ananda also said she’d like to know what an appropriate funding level for street maintenance would be and what is considered best practice.

Commissioner Stuart Boley asked whether the funding for street maintenance was based on past levels or whether it was based on the commission’s recently updated strategic plan. Willmoth said that while the city was working on tying funding levels to the commission’s strategic plan goals, funding was still based on past levels. He said that adjustment was a very big lift to try to accomplish in one year, especially coming out of the pandemic with revenues still relatively flat.

In response to the commission’s questions, MSO Deputy Director Mike Lawless said that the $10.5 million requested was based on the department’s predictive modeling tool for pavement conditions. Lawless said the city could work with the model to see how lower funding would affect road conditions over time and bring back more information to the commission at a later date.

The commission also heard from several residents who asked the city to fund a currently unfunded project to expand and repair the skate park at Centennial Park. Commissioners expressed concerns about cracks in the pavement at the park, and Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Mark Hecker said some funding is allocated this year to address a portion of the park, but it will not address all the surfaces. Mayor Brad Finkeldei said he’d like to hear more from the city about the potential improvements and expansion at the skate park, and potentially switching out funding for another recreation project.

An updated version of the five-year plan will eventually be considered as part of the city’s budget process this summer, and the funding allocated to projects in 2022 will be approved as part of next year’s budget. Currently, the plan totals $99.5 million for 2022 and $445.3 million for the full five-year period.

The CIP will be discussed again at the commission’s meeting on July 13, when City Manager Craig Owens will present his recommended budget for next year. The 2022 budget and the CIP for that year will not be formally adopted until Sept. 14.


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