Proposed city budget would raise property tax rate while services would be cut in some departments

photo by: Journal-World

Lawrence city manager Craig Owens is pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, outside City Hall.

Story updated at 5:42 p.m. Friday, July 5:

The proposed budget for 2025 for the City of Lawrence recommends a property tax rate increase of 3.5 mills, but also recommends that some services be cut in departments like fire-medical and parks and recreation.

City Manager Craig Owens’ proposed budget would be $520,815,540 across all funds for next year. Owens said Lawrence had “millions of dollars less revenue” than anticipated in part because of slower growth from sales tax collections.

According to the budget report, part of the need for an increase in the property tax rate comes from more revenue being needed for the expansion of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical operations. As the department looks to expand its infrastructure, including building two more stations, in the short term, minimum staffing levels would decrease from four firefighters required on a truck to just three.

According to a presentation put together by the city, the change in requirements does not mean there will be layoffs, but a memo sent by Fire Chief Rich Llewellyn to County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said anywhere between seven and nine positions could be cut.

The union representing local firefighters, International Association of Firefighters Local 1596, put out a statement Friday evening urging the City Commission to reject the proposal to reduce the number of firefighters and paramedics on duty.

Seamus Albritton, the president of IAFF Local 1596, said the proposal was being made despite an increase in emergency calls and less than a year after the City Commission approved adding five full-time positions to the department.

“Frankly, City Management’s proposal fails to meet the safety expectations of the public, the safety expectations outlined in the national standards, and the workplace safety expectations of our community’s firefighters so we are asking our City Commissioners to reject it,” Albritton said.

The city also said there will be a reduction of service levels for the Parks and Recreation Department. Three vacant full-time jobs would be eliminated in the 2025 budget and part-time staffing hours would be decreased.

The decrease in services for Parks and Rec would mean reduced hours at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, the East Lawrence Recreation Center, Holcom Park Recreation Center and the aquatic centers, as well as reductions in landscape maintenance.

Owens said that this proposal would lead some in the community to feel a “sense of loss” in the reduction of services, but that the city staff “adapt(ed) to unforeseen challenges quickly while delivering on promised levels of services to match our resources.”

The budget will first be presented to the City Commission on Tuesday night. At the July 16 meeting, the City Commission will be asked to establish the maximum mill levy rate, give notice of intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate and formalize the dates of both the public hearing to exceed the revenue neutral rate and the 2025 budget public hearing.

A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20 about the revenue-neutral rate and the 2025 budget. The commission is scheduled to vote on adopting the 2025 budget on Sept. 10.

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