Lawrence City Commission directs staff not to cut Lawrence Humane Society’s funding for next year

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Commission also opts for lower mill levy option; keeps $7M in budget for roads, though perhaps not Wakarusa

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday gave staff a consensus to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to ensure that the Lawrence Humane Society will receive the same amount of funding in the next city budget as it has for the past few years.

The original proposed budget in July recommended a cut of $100,000 to the city’s funding of the Humane Society. An update last week instead recommended a smaller cut of $35,000.

But Humane Society staff and board members, as well as numerous community members, asked the commissioners on Tuesday to maintain full funding for the animal shelter, citing the many services it provides.

Katie Barnett, attorney for the Lawrence Humane Society, also shared some comparisons with other cities: In Warrensburg, Missouri, the animal shelter is funded at about $7 per capita; Kansas City, Missouri’s is funded at about $6 per capita; and Ottawa’s is funded at about $4.87 per capita, Barnett said. The Lawrence Humane Society’s city funding comes out to about $3.70 per capita, she said.

“The money that the city provides Lawrence Humane Society is actually very, very low when you compare other cities that have flat rate contracts,” Barnett said, “so I just urge you to consider fully funding the shelter.”

Commissioner Amber Sellers, following up on a suggestion one person made in public comment, asked if the city could take the $35,000 from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for this year.

Although Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she objected to “kicking the can down the road” by using one-time funds for an expense that will be ongoing in future years, commissioners came to a consensus to keep funding at the same level as previous years through the use of the ARPA dollars.

The Humane Society’s memorandum of understanding with the city was signed in 2018. It will come back to the commission at a later date for further discussion, and at that point the funding could increase or decrease, depending on negotiations.

Mill levy: Commissioners also agreed to a slightly lower amount for the city’s mill levy to help offset an increase to the library’s portion of the mill levy, which will cover pay increases for staff.

Property taxes will still increase substantially for many Lawrence residents, however, because most property values increased significantly this year.

Wakarusa extension, the last of three key takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting: Commissioners decided to keep funding in the city’s capital improvement plan that was intended to build a southern extension of Wakarusa Drive out in the county — but they’re not sure that’s where those funds will end up.

The $7 million the commission will set aside for road construction is a match for Kansas Department of Transportation funding.

KDOT funds will allow for the expansion of the west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway (aka Kansas Highway 10 between the interchanges at U.S. 59 Highway/Iowa Street and North 1800 Road) to four lanes. But the city and Douglas County had to agree to fund an extension of Wakarusa Drive south for about a mile and a half from where it currently ends near the SLT.

Several members of the public also spoke out Tuesday with concerns about the Wakarusa extension project’s potential impacts on wildlife and the environment. In addition, commissioners have raised their own concerns.

“It’s not even in city limits, and I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the city to be building roads for the county,” Larsen said. “… We need to stay in our lane, and we don’t pay for county roads.”

The amount will stay the same, but commissioners want to explore whether KDOT might allow the city to use it for a different purpose.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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