City budget would double parking fees and fines, increase utility rates, but keep property tax flat, rec centers free

photo by: Thad Allender/Journal-World File Photo

A line of parking meters is pictured in this file photo from May 2007.

City of Lawrence leaders will soon take the next step in approving the city’s 2020 budget, which, as currently proposed, would hold the property tax rate flat and would increase utility rates, parking rates and commissioner pay.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will hold a public hearing on its working budget. As proposed, the $235.4 million operating budget includes about $66 million in capital improvement projects for next year, including $3.5 million in 2020 for a bus-transfer hub, $3.4 million to replace a water tower on Stratford Road and $1.1 million toward the reconstruction of 19th Street from Harper Street to O’Connell Road, among other projects.

The full proposed budget is located on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org. A rundown of some of the budget’s components is as follows:

Property tax rate: The commission’s working budget assumes a flat property tax rate; however, the commission approved a maximum expenditure level that includes the 0.5-mill property tax hike proposed in former City Manager Tom Markus’ recommended budget. The increase would amount to about a $12 increase in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home. At its meeting July 19, commissioners said they wanted to keep the property tax rate flat but maintain the possibility of increasing the tax rate to have flexibility for the public hearing.

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Utility rates: City utility bills are made up of charges for water, solid waste and stormwater, and rates for all three services would increase as part of the budget. The budget calls for an 8% rate increase for water, a 3% rate increase for solid waste and a 3% rate increase for stormwater. The proposed utility rate increases for 2020 would bring the typical utility bill to about $103 per month, which equates to a 33% increase since 2015.

Parks and Recreation entrance fees: The budget makes about a dozen changes to eliminate recreation entrance fees and keep the Community Building open for drop-in use, changes that were included Markus’ recommended budget. The budget includes a one-time shift of the $120,000 debt payment for Sports Pavilion Lawrence from the recreation fund to the debt service fund; a $70,000 reduction to funding for Explore Lawrence; and a $30,000 reduction for the city’s transient guest tax special events grant program. The changes would allow for the status quo in 2020 and give the city time to develop a recommendation for the department’s long-term sustainability.

Commissioner pay: The budget provides the commission its first pay raise in 20 years, and would increase commissioner pay to $22,044 annually. Currently, the mayor is paid $10,000 annually and the other commissioners $9,000. The raises would go into effect after Jan. 1, 2020. The pay increases are significantly less than the $38,000 annual commissioner salary proposed by Markus.

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Parking fees: The budget doubles most downtown parking rates and fines, with revenues projected to increase by $657,023 in 2020 and by $164,255 in 2019 if the changes are implemented on Oct. 1, 2019, which city staff is recommending. The additional revenue would fund infrastructure to modernize parking downtown.

Parking rates for Massachusetts Street meters would increase from 50 cents per hour to $1 per hour; other meters downtown would increase from 50 cents and 10 cents per hour to $1 and 20 cents per hour; and parking lot meters would increase from 10 cents per hour to 20 cents per hour. Parking garage rates would increase from $1 per day to $2 per day, and 10-hour permits would increase from $192 per year to $240 per year. Parking citations would increase from $5 to $10 per citation.

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

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