City manager proposes ballot measure to double sales tax rate for affordable housing, homeless services

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall

Updated at 4:43 p.m. Monday, July 8

As part of the proposal for next year’s city budget, Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens is asking for a measure to be put on the November ballot in which Lawrence residents would vote on whether to raise the affordable housing sales tax from 0.05% to 0.10%.

A large amount of the new money would fund programs for homeless services, which the city created with temporary federal funding received during the pandemic. Most of that federal funding, however, is scheduled to end in 2025.

The tax would add an extra nickel in sales tax to every $100 in purchases made by consumers in Lawrence. State law requires all city sales tax increases to be put to a citywide election of voters.

Owens said the increase in sales tax would double the money the city currently gets to help tackle housing issues from $1.25 million to $2.5 million. This past year, Owens said the city earned $1.25 million from the special sales tax, which was first approved by Lawrence voters in 2017. Owens said the tax helps fund many aspects of the “A Place For Everyone” plan between Lawrence and Douglas County that aims to give all residents access to affordable housing.

The increased sales tax would fully fund the city’s Homeless Solutions Division, which last year had a budget of a little over $5.2 million. A large chunk of that money came from $1,522,510 in federal ARPA funds, but this will be the first year the city will have to fully foot the bill.

The current budget proposal allocates $4.7 million to the Homeless Solutions Division with the increase in sales tax built into the budget, Owens said. That means the ballot proposal is crucial for the city to maintain those services without federal money.

“This (new) $1.25 million will be critical to get us to those higher levels of service that we are committed to in building our capacity to respond to homelessness,” Owens said.

Owens said city commissioners will have to vote to approve an ordinance that will put the question of increasing the special tax on the November ballot.

The increased special sales tax proposal will be presented with the rest of the initial 2025 budget Tuesday night. That budget plan includes a property tax rate increase of 3.5 mills.

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.

The city also said in the budget proposal 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.

The budget proposal will be presented to city commissioners in a meeting Tuesday night, which is set to meet at 5 p.m. at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth Street. The meeting also can be watched via the city’s YouTube channel.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting:

• The City Commission will vote on approving a bid of about $2.1 million to Bettis Asphalt & Construction Inc. to resurface North Second Street/North Third Street from “the railroad tunnel to north City limits.” The project will mill, patch and overlay the street, install new curb and gutter where needed and reconstruct noncompliant ADA access ramps.

If approved, the city will give $2.25 million to cover contingency cost as well; $400,000 of that comes from a Kansas Department of Transportation program.

The City expects work on the project to start in August and be finished by Nov. 8.

• The commissioners will vote on a resolution that would revise some School Area Traffic Control Policy for where crossing guards would be stationed during the year. Currently policy places crossing guards at newly requested locations for the full school year to evaluate if the spot needs a crossing guard. Because of the city having trouble staffing the required number of crossing guards, the recommended change would place crossing guards at new requested locations for 30-60 days to determine if they are needed there.

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