During a relatively brief meeting Tuesday evening, the Lawrence City Commission heard from the public about the proposed 2024 budget and voted to stick with the plan that will increase property taxes.
The maximum mill levy, or tax rate, for the 2024 budget is 33.207 mills, which is the same as the 2023 budget. However, because assessed valuations have increased, property owners will pay more and the city will see an increase in revenue from property taxes. The owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay approximately $955 to the city in property taxes for 2024.
Commissioners heard from half a dozen people who asked them not to raise property taxes.
Among other proposed changes, the city plans to add five new firefighter/paramedic positions, which a memo in the commission’s agenda says will reduce overtime by $177,000, and ultimately increase costs to the city by $280,000.
“I think the additional five firefighters is a very important addition to the budget even more than the recommended budget, and I’m glad we were able to track that money down to fund that,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said. “I’ll go ahead support the resolution tonight to exceed the revenue neutral rate.”
Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn said he agreed.
“We’ve been asking (firefighters) to work very long hours and mandatory overtime for quite a while without any sort of relief, and I’m glad that we were able to get those five additional firefighters so they can go ahead and just have that,” Littlejohn said.
Commissioner Courtney Shipley also agreed that increasing the revenue neutral rate was the “most appropriate way forward.”
“I’m glad that we were able to find some much needed revenue for some important positions,” she said.
Mayor Lisa Larsen said she was pleased with the progress the city has made in its capital improvement planning and how it shows the community the progress the city is trying to accomplish.
“We’re spending almost twice as much on our on our infrastructure now than we were back (in 2018). That is really important,” Larsen said. “But that doesn’t make the fact that we’re having to pay more taxes any easier, and I understand that we’re all being hit by that.”
In addition, she said the city has had to raise wages over the past few years in order to retain staff, and she said she thinks Lawrence prides itself as a community on trying to pay folks a living wage. But she said that going forward, city staff members need to find ways to “scale down the big jumps we’re seeing.” She said inflation is starting to settle down, and she thinks the city budgets going forward should reflect that.
“To me, it’s getting to a tipping point that we really need to do something to address that going forward,” Larsen said.
One member of the public asked if the commission would consider capping property taxes for seniors. Finkeldei said the city can’t do that at the local level, but that was something that the Kansas Legislature should consider.
Commissioners held the two statutorily required hearings: one on the plan to exceed the revenue neutral tax rate, and one on the 2024 budget itself. No members of the public spoke during the latter, and commissioners voted 5-0 to move forward with both items.
The commission also voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve tax incentives for First Management Inc. to build its downtown corporate headquarters.
The commission’s final vote on the 2024 budget will be Tuesday, Sept. 5.