The public hearing for the city’s 2018 budget will take place Tuesday.
As part of their Tuesday meeting, Lawrence city commissioners will hear public comment and make changes to the proposed budget for next year. The budget currently calls for a 1.25-mill increase in the property tax rate, a new police headquarters, significant cuts to city staff and $60 million in projects.
The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.
Property tax increase
• Commissioners voted to set the maximum 2018 budget at $255 million, which would increase the property tax rate by 1.25 mills. Taxes are levied on 11.5 percent of a home's assessed property value, and a mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of that value. The 1.25-mill increase amounts to about $25 per year in new property taxes on a $175,000 home.
• The mill levy increase would provide debt financing for $17 million for the first phase of a new police headquarters. The police department currently works out of multiple buildings that the department says are inadequate. The multi-phase, multi-year plan would create a law enforcement campus to centralize police operations and training and allow city police to potentially co-locate with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to save costs. Voters rejected a proposal to use sales tax to fund a police headquarters in 2014.
• The budget assumes renewal of the .55 percent citywide sales tax that would otherwise expire next year. As part of the Nov. 7 election, Lawrence residents will vote individually on the three components of the sales tax: infrastructure improvements, transit operations and affordable housing projects. If renewed, the 0.55 percent citywide sales tax would be in place for 10 years and is projected to generate more than $116 million.
Utility rate increase
• The budget includes increases in charges for water, trash and sewer services. Combined, the changes amount to about a 6 percent increase over this year’s rates and would add about $65 annually to residents’ bills. The rate increases are expected to bring in an additional $3 million for water and wastewater next year. City staff have said the additional revenue is needed for the department to keep pace with costs.
City staff cuts
• The budget calls for the elimination of 11 positions, all of which are now vacant. Those positions are: one city auditor position, one code enforcement position, two solid waste loader positions, one administrative support position, one communication manager position, three utility meter reader positions, one assistant golf pro position and an administrator at Sports Pavilion Lawrence. Michael Eglinski filled the city auditor position until July 14, when he resigned. Combined, elimination of the 11 positions would save the city about $630,000 in 2018.
Police body cameras
• The budget includes more than half a million dollars for body cameras for the Lawrence Police Department. The budget provides about $465,000 to purchase the cameras and $66,000 toward a technical support position that would begin midyear. Cameras would be purchased for all 154 officers in the department. The proposal does not detail how the cameras would be used, but does state the police department would need to develop a new policy in conversation with community members and stakeholders.
New Humane Society
• The budget provides $2.5 million toward the construction of a $7.5 million animal shelter, which will replace the 21-year-old facility in eastern Lawrence. As laid out, a $5 million city bond issue would provide a $2.5 million grant and a $2.5 million loan for the Humane Society’s new building. The Humane Society has been raising funds to help pay its share of the new building.
Automated meter reading installation
• About $6.4 million is budgeted to install automated water meters for the utility department. Currently, city staff manually check water meters for monthly usage. Another $4.4 million is budgeted for 2019.
Reconstruction of Queens Road
• $4.85 million is budgeted to reconstruct Queens Road from Sixth Street to the city limits. As proposed, all but about $350,000 of that amount would be paid for by special assessments charged to properties located within the Queens Road benefit district. That means some homeowners near the road could face a special charge on their tax bills. Another benefit district would generate $450,000 to add a stoplight to the road’s intersection with Sixth Street. In June, the commission deferred finalization of the benefit district to consider additional options, including changing how charges are distributed among those in the benefit district, expanding the district or increasing the citywide taxpayer share.
Phase two of 19th Street reconstruction
• About $3.9 million is budgeted for reconstruction of 19th Street from Iowa Street to Naismith Drive. As part of this year’s budget, there is a $4.5 million project underway to reconstruct the 19th Street and Naismith Drive intersection.
Reconstruction of East Ninth Street
• $2.5 million is budgeted for the reconstruction of Ninth Street from New Hampshire Street to Pennsylvania Street. In June, the commission voted to move forward with a basic street design concept, foregoing a previous concept that integrated public art and artistic design. The Lawrence Arts Center has $335,000 available from an ArtPlace America grant to fund public art for the project, and requested the city provide additional funding for art. The basic street design preserves areas where art can be added, but the request for city funds for artistic design or public art is currently unfunded.