City leaders question how homeless shelter’s $400,000 emergency funding request should be split with county
photo by: Mike Yoder
City leaders agreed on Tuesday that local governments should provide emergency funding for the Lawrence Community Shelter, but they want more discussion regarding how the city and county should split up those costs.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission discussed the homeless shelter’s additional funding request and received an outside review of the shelter’s financial situation. The shelter is requesting an additional $252,000 from the city and $148,000 from Douglas County for 2019, which if approved would bring the city and county funding for the shelter to $715,000 for the year, according to a city staff memo to the commission.
Commissioners generally agreed that the shelter provided an essential service and could not be allowed to fail, but that the breakdown of funding needed to be discussed with the county. The commission voted unanimously to direct city staff to arrange meetings with county leaders regarding the funding allocation.
The shelter’s funding request, which asked the city to provide 63% of the money and the county to provide 37%, was based on the breakdown of funding provided by both governments thus far in 2019. Commissioner Stuart Boley said he disagreed with that method. Boley noted that even if the county provided all the funding, Lawrence residents would still have significant participation because Lawrence property owners pay three-quarters of the property tax received by Douglas County.
Boley said he supported providing the funding, but that there are a lot of ways the governments could allocate the money. He said the breakdown needed to be considered since the city also funds other social service agencies and has other financial responsibilities such as street maintenance.
“I think the community supports this; I think we need to support this,” Boley said. “But whether we do that as Douglas County taxpayers or whether we do that as City of Lawrence taxpayers, or both, I think there needs to be serious conversation about that because we have a lot of responsibilities.”
The county and city paid a consultant, SS&C Solutions, to assess the shelter’s operations and finances, develop a strategic plan and provide search services for the shelter’s new executive director. One of SS&C’s findings was that over the past five years, the shelter’s funding from private contributions decreased while funding from the city and county increased, from about 34% in 2014 to about 57% in 2019.
Mayor Lisa Larsen said she was concerned that the percentage of the shelter’s budget funded privately and the percentage funded by local governments had essentially flip-flopped in a period of five years. SS&C Chief Operating Officer Erika Dvorske said the goal would be to get those percentages back to the historical percentages over a period of 24 months.
SS&C’s assessment includes multiple recommendations, including narrowing the shelter’s mission to focus exclusively on emergency shelter, adopting metrics for its programming and separating board and staff roles, among others. The consultant continues to work on developing a partnership framework and a strategic plan for the shelter, the final draft of which will be delivered at a later date, according to the memo.
If the commission decides to approve the funding request, city staff has recommended taking the money from the city’s general operating fund. Some commissioners also expressed interest in potentially using funds from the city’s special alcohol fund, which supports various social service organizations. Any additional funding would require an amendment to the 2019 budget previously approved by the commission. All amendments to the budget will be discussed as part of the 2020 budget process later this month, according to the memo.
In other business, the commission accepted a request as part of its consent agenda from a bike-share company to expand its services. VeoRide Inc. is requesting that the city allow it to rent out 150 electric scooters and permit its customers to park bikes and scooters outside currently designated bike racks, according to VeoRide’s request. The request will be sent to the city’s Transportation Commission, which will then send its recommendation to the City Commission for ultimate consideration.