Lawrence City Commission gives preliminary approval to 2020 budget that holds tax rate flat, increases utility and parking rates

photo by: City of Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission meets Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, at City Hall.

Lawrence city commissioners have given their first approval to the city’s 2020 budget, which would hold the property tax rate flat and increase utility rates, parking rates and commissioner pay.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to approve next year’s budget, which includes a $235.4 million operating budget and about $66 million in capital improvement projects for next year. Though the budget does not increase the property tax rate, it calls for an 8% rate increase for water, a 3% rate increase for solid waste and a 3% rate increase for stormwater, bringing the typical utility bill to about $103 per month.

Commissioners discussed only one change to their working budget, in order to reverse a $20,000 funding cut proposed for the local chamber of commerce. In order to provide the funding, commissioners agreed that instead of paying an outside organization $20,000 to do an evaluation of the city manager, the commission would perform the evaluation itself.

The budget includes other spending cuts, including $20,000 less for the Bioscience and Technology Business Center, $100,000 less for capital projects and $30,000 less for tree replanting related to damage caused by emerald ash borer infestations. The budget also does not fully fund a request from the Lawrence Community Shelter, which is seeking a funding increase from both the city and the county for 2020.

The commission also discussed providing the shelter with all or part of the $20,000 that it ultimately gave to the chamber of commerce. But Mayor Lisa Larsen suggested that the commission instead review the city’s sales tax receipts early next year to see if they outpace current projections, which would enable the city to do a funding amendment to provide the shelter with additional funding. The commission did not vote on that suggestion, but none of the commissioners objected to the idea.

As part of the budget, the city is proposing that its water and sewer department make a 6% “payment in lieu of a franchise fee” going forward. Finance Director Jeremy Willmoth told commissioners that the payment essentially formalizes the city’s current process of transferring money from the department to the general fund to pay for right-of-way maintenance. Currently, a dollar amount is decided upon and transferred every year, but the percentage would mean that as utility rates go up or large water projects are completed, the transfer amount would also increase. Commissioner Stuart Boley commented that as revenues go up, the commission could consider decreasing that percentage over time.

Under the budget, most downtown parking rates and fines would double, with revenues projected to increase by about $657,023 annually. The additional revenue will fund projects to modernize parking downtown. A list of parking projects that city staff presented included new technology to help parking enforcement staff write tickets, new payment stations for parking garages, a mobile app that can be used to pay for parking, and an online portal for permits and payments. Commissioner Matthew Herbert commented that some of the rates had not increased in more than a decade.

The budget also makes about a dozen changes to eliminate recreation facility entrance fees and keep the Community Building open for drop-in use, changes that were included in former City Manager Tom Markus’ recommended budget. 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. Boley emphasized that the changes were a one-time fix, and the department would need to come up with a new plan for future years.

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 budget also includes the first across-the-board wage increase that nonunion city employees have seen in years.

The commission is scheduled to finalize the budget and the related ordinances at its meeting Aug. 13.

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve two requests related to the city’s first proposed development of small homes, known as the Burroughs Creek Trail Addition. The city already allows the 3,000-square-foot single-family lots the project requires, but the proposed site required a rezoning from industrial uses to that zoning type as well as an amendment to the comprehensive plan.

City Commission Meeting 08/06/19

Previous coverage: City budget 2020

Aug. 5 — Can large pile of cash reduce Lawrence’s proposed water rate increases? City is unsure

Aug. 4 — The city plans to put a new tax on your drinking water, but some question whether it’s fair to low-income residents

Aug. 4 — City budget would double parking fees and fines, increase utility rates, but keep property tax flat, rec centers free

July 16 — City Commission gives initial approval on 2020 budget with 0.5 mill levy increase, plans to make cuts

July 9 — Lawrence City Commission open to some budget cuts to keep recreation centers free, hold mill levy flat

June 30 — Budget proposal to charge entrance fees at recreation centers represents change in philosophy for city

June 23 — Proposed raise for Lawrence city commissioners would make pay among highest in state

June 23 — To modernize parking enforcement, city manager proposes increasing cost of parking and tickets downtown

June 20 — Parks and Rec board hears public concerns about closing Community Building, says entrance fees will be barrier for low-income residents

June 19 — Budget proposal to increase city commissioner pay from $9,000 to $38,000 sparks debate among city leaders

June 18 — City leaders concerned about proposed property tax, utility and recreation fee increases

June 15 — Some city leaders express concern about proposed utility rate increases; average utility bill would be more than $100

June 13 — City manager’s recommended budget would increase Lawrence property taxes, utility rates

June 10 — Parks and Rec board concerned about proposal to charge entrance fees at rec centers, partially close Community Building

June 4 — City leaders question how homeless shelter’s $400,000 emergency funding request should be split with county


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