Prairie Park Nature Center on chopping block in city’s proposed budget

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Post last updated at 4:02 p.m. Friday, July 8:

Some Lawrence community members have started rallying to save Prairie Park Nature Center shortly after the city released a proposed 2022-23 budget. 

One of several proposals in 106 pages of budget materials that the Lawrence City Commission will review Tuesday calls for shuttering the center to save $337,000 annually.

The proposal states that the center, 2730 Harper St., is a “a prime location for an early childhood education or childcare center, an unmet community need which has been identified in our economic development strategic plan.”

“Open since 1999, the Prairie Park Nature Center serves as home to several live animals and a wide variety of environmental and recreation programs for the public, schools, scouts, adults and other groups. However, this program scored in quartile 4, meaning it was among programs least aligned with the City’s strategic plan,” City Manager Craig Owens’ budget proposal states.

“… The existing staff would be transferred elsewhere in the City and a plan would be developed to safely rehome the animals currently living at the facility. Opportunities to repurpose and lease this facility can also be explored.”

The proposal was released Thursday evening along with the Lawrence City Commission’s agenda. By Friday morning, a Facebook post calling for people to share their thoughts about the nature center during the meeting had been shared more than 500 times. A petition had gathered more than 150 signatures by Friday afternoon.

The budget proposal keeps the mill levy and sales taxes flat; however, many properties saw significant increases in their assessed valuations this year, meaning property taxes will still increase for the owners. Revenues are projected to increase to about $410.5 million, or by 4.65%, and expenditures are projected to increase to about $436.8 million, or 9.68% over last year’s budget.

The Lawrence City Commission will hold a joint meeting with the Douglas County Commission at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, and will begin its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. See the full budget proposal at this link and the full meeting agenda at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel and in person at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

The commission accepts public comment in writing — comments must be received by noon the day of the meeting at — and during meetings in person and virtually. Register to join the Zoom meeting at this link.

The city is also accepting comments on the budget via a Lawrence Listens form. That’s available at this link.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Prairie Park Nature Center
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Photo updated at 11:02 a.m. Friday, July 8

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