Lawrence City Commission to give initial input to inform 2024 budget, including changes to tax rate

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

Lawrence city leaders will soon have their first chance to weigh in on key policy questions regarding the city’s upcoming budget for 2024, including whether they want to see the city make changes to its property tax rate.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will be asked to consider five policy questions that will impact decisions regarding the 2024 budget. The commission’s input will be used to guide the development of the city manager’s recommended budget, which will come to the commission for initial consideration on July 11.

“These are difficult questions that the community is going to have to address during this upcoming budget process,” Finance Director Jeremy Willmoth states in a memo to the commission.

The questions center on increases to employees wages, the city’s property tax rate, how city programs should be prioritized and where the city should look for potential budget reductions. The presentation for Tuesday also includes updates on the city’s major revenue streams. The city is anticipating an 8% increase in its property tax collections and a 5% increase in its sales and use tax collections. The city will receive its final assessed valuation regarding property values from the county appraiser on June 15.

The city has been focusing on making city employee wages more market competitive in recent years, and as part of the 2023 budget allocated $5 million for employee raises ($5 million was also allocated to raises the year prior). Though the city kept its tax rate flat for 2023, historic increases in residential property values meant that even with a flat tax rate, homeowners still paid significantly more in taxes. The city manager’s recommended budget for 2023 called for relatively narrow budget cuts, including the closure of the Prairie Park Nature Center building and a funding cut for the Lawrence Humane Society, both of which the commission ultimately restored.

The questions that city staff are posing to the commission to inform the development of the 2024 budget are as follows (with some notes in parentheses added for clarity):

1. Do you continue to support a market competitive compensation plan for all employees?

2. Do you have any guidance regarding the mill levy? (the city’s property tax rate)

3. Do you have any guidance on the weighting of scoring criteria for our Priority Based Budget initiative? (a scoring process the city uses to make budget decisions)

4. Are there any specific programs identified in this presentation that you would like to see given a higher priority than the score indicated?

5. Are there any areas or services where we should look more closely for savings or that may not be as high a priority as in the past?

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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