Lawrence City Commission to review how city taxes and utilities compare to other cities in region

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016

City of Lawrence leaders will soon review a report that shows how Lawrence taxes and utility bills compare to those of other communities.

As part of the City Commission’s work session Tuesday, the commission will receive a report comparing the cost of living in Lawrence to dozens of other nearby cities. Specifically, Roeland Park City Administrator Keith Moody will present his findings from a survey of 49 municipalities in Missouri and Kansas that compares the cost for an average single family for public- and private-provided utilities as well as property tax, sales tax and income tax.

Lawrence Finance Director Jeremy Willmoth said that while the Cost-of-Living Comparison study has been conducted for 20 years, Lawrence has only been included in the past two years. Willmoth said the presentation will inform the commission about where Lawrence stands compared to regional peers. A city staff memo to the commission states that the city plans to participate in the study each year, and staff will bring back a condensed version of the report for the commission’s consideration.

The City of Lawrence provides water, sewer, stormwater and trash and recycling collection service citywide, and private companies provide electricity and gas services. The comparison indicates that Lawrence’s total single-family cost for 2020 is near the average cost for the 49 cities examined. The total cost includes all taxes and all utilities, both publicly and privately provided. For Lawrence, the total cost was $15,525 annually as compared to the average cost of $15,559 annually.

The comparison breaks down the utilities and tax portions of those costs, and it indicated that some of the city-controlled portions of those costs were above the average of the 49 cities included in the study.

For the utilities portion, comparisons are made among electric, natural gas, water, solid waste, sewer and stormwater services. Taken together, an average Lawrence family’s total annual utility cost is below the average for the 49 cities — $4,800 compared to $4,900.

However, the annual cost for just the city-provided utilities was $1,594 annually, while the average annual cost of water, sewer, stormwater and solid waste collection services among all 49 cities was $1,566. Lawrence’s costs for water and solid waste are below the average, while the sewer and stormwater costs are above the average. Water costs for a Lawrence family in 2020 were $551 annually compared to the average of $585; solid waste costs were $214 annually compared to the average of $244; sewer costs were $775 annually compared to the average of $707; and stormwater costs were $54 annually compared to the average of $30.

All property tax, sales tax and income tax for a Lawrence family in 2020 totaled $10,725 as compared with an average of $10,657. The city-levied property tax — the county and school district also levy taxes — on a $252,000 home was $966 annually compared to the average of $640 annually. The city sales tax rate was 1.55% compared to the average rate of 2.02%.

As the Journal-World recently reported, a national report found that Lawrence ranks in the top 20 for highest utility bill averages for small metro areas, which includes the city utilities as well as privately provided electricity and gas services. The report also found that Lawrence was tied for 23rd among the small metro areas for highest water and sewer bill averages.

The 2021 budget approved by the City Commission calls for a flat property tax rate but contemplates increases in all three city utility rates to help support operations and infrastructure projects. Discussions are expected to take place this fall about proposed city utility rate increases that, taken together, would amount to an approximately $110 annual increase over this year for the typical residential customer using 4,000 gallons of water per month. A date for that meeting has not yet been announced.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m., with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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