City leaders express interest in using sales tax surplus to help homeless shelter
photo by: Jackson Barton
City of Lawrence leaders will soon consider providing some of the city’s surplus sales tax proceeds to the local homeless shelter.
Lawrence received about $400,000 more in sales and use tax collections in 2019 than it had budgeted for. During the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Lisa Larsen asked whether the commission should consider using some of the surplus sales tax to provide additional funding to the Lawrence Community Shelter, which has been struggling financially.
“I’m willing to have that discussion,” Larsen said.
When the commission was creating the 2020 budget last summer, the homeless shelter asked the city to increase its funding from about $200,000 to $504,000. The commission instead approved $296,000 for the shelter. However, at that time, then-Mayor Larsen said she wanted to watch how city sales tax collections finished the year and potentially modify the budget to give the shelter more money if receipts came in better than expected.
Lawrence Community Shelter Executive Director Renee Kuhl told the commission Tuesday that the past year had been difficult and that she was grateful for the commission’s support. Kuhl said she planned to propose that the city provide additional funding to temporarily increase the capacity of the shelter for the colder months.
“I know you folks really care; I wanted to lead off by saying that,” Kuhl said. “Also that I would really welcome a renewal of the conversation about funding for the shelter, especially about cold-weather shelter.”
Kuhl noted that in past years, the shelter typically provided 20 extra beds in the winter on top of the 125 beds that it provided year-round. However, not only is the shelter not providing the 20 extra beds this winter, but it continues to operate at a reduced capacity of only 90 beds because of financial difficulties.
In response to questions from Larsen, Kuhl said the shelter would like an additional $26,000 from the city. Kuhl said that would allow the shelter to make needed repairs and pay an additional staff member so that the shelter could provide 10 extra beds, for a total of 100, until the middle of April. Kuhl said that in order to serve more guests than it currently does, the shelter would need to repair a water heater and replace a water fountain.
“So right now, those would be really crucial things that I need to get fixed before we could bring extra people into the shelter,” Kuhl said.
The commission voted unanimously to put the topic of additional funding for the shelter on next week’s agenda as a regular agenda item, meaning that the commission would be able to take action at that time. The commission didn’t discuss the particulars of the shelter’s proposal any further or come to any consensus regarding how much of the surplus should be provided to the shelter or how it should be spent. There was no discussion of whether the surplus should be used for other purposes.
The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., has been operating at a reduced capacity since August, and some homeless people have been forced to sleep outdoors as a result. Earlier last year, the shelter increased the required number of staff members who work directly with guests from two to four people based on recommendations from a consultant hired by the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. The shelter subsequently requested a funding increase from both local governments, and when it was not fully funded the shelter decided to reduce capacity rather than go back to running at full capacity with only two staff members working directly with guests, as the Journal-World previously reported.
In other business, the City Commission voted unanimously to approve its legislative priority statement, which it provides annually to the local state legislative delegation and which guides input on proposed legislation. The commission approved the statement as it was, other than removing a priority about raising the tobacco age to 21 because that has already been done at the federal level. Mayor Jennifer Ananda suggested that the commission add another priority regarding the decriminalization of marijuana possession, and the commission agreed to discuss that addition at a future meeting.
The commission was scheduled to consider an appeal of a ruling by the Historic Resources Commission regarding the renovation of a private home at 941 Pennsylvania St., but that item was deferred at the applicant’s request. The commission also met in executive session to discuss pending litigation but had no information to publicly report afterward.