City budget would hike property taxes, seek to double .05% sales tax to support homelessness solutions

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The Lawrence city manager’s proposed budget for 2025 would increase the property tax rate, and it proposes doubling the current .05% affordable housing sales tax to support homelessness initiatives. It also recommends trimming some of the Parks and Recreation budget.

Sales tax revenues are far below projections, resulting in millions of dollars less revenue than the city had anticipated, according to a presentation in the Lawrence City Commission’s Tuesday meeting agenda.

If Lawrence City Commissioners approve the budget as presented, the mill levy will increase by 3.5 mills, to 36.707 from 33.207. That means the owner of a home with a value of $247,300 – the median value for Lawrence in 2022 — would pay $100 more to the city in property taxes next year, or $1,044 up from $944, according to the agenda.

A big reason for the property tax increase would be to build and equip two new fire stations over the next few years. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical leaders have pushed for the past few years to build new stations, citing slower response times to some hotspots in the city’s outskirts as city limits have expanded.

However, the plan also recommends reducing LDCFM’s minimum staffing levels to 36 from 39, which would not result in layoffs, according to the agenda. That proposal has already raised concerns for the firefighters union.

The budget and capital improvement plan also include $87 million in expenditures over the next five years for street maintenance and construction. They also dedicate $5 million per year to improve accessibility of sidewalks in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Homeless Solutions Division

The city will no longer have federal COVID-19 relief funds available in 2025, leaving the Homeless Solutions Division budget short about $1.52 million.

The proposed budget would offset that by increasing the existing .05% affordable housing sales tax to 0.1%, to generate about $1.25 million in additional revenue, according to the agenda. The sales tax revenue would be split 50-50 between affordable housing projects and homelessness initiatives.

Increasing the sales tax, however, would rely upon voters’ approval. Lawrence residents would have to vote in favor of increasing the sales tax.

“If approved, these funds … are anticipated to initially fund Homeless Solutions, including emergency sheltering, outreach and case management,” City Manager Craig Owens wrote in an introductory letter to the commission. “As the need for emergency sheltering diminishes, the additional funds will transition to Affordable Housing projects.”

The Homeless Solutions Division’s budget for 2025, with an approved sales tax increase, would be $4.72 million, down from $5.26 million.

The 2025 budget “provides funding to maintain 2024 service levels in outreach, case management and emergency shelter, including the current 125 beds at (Lawrence Community Shelter) campus, 50 beds at The Village, and 32 new beds with Pallet 32 (more than 200 beds total),” Owens wrote.

Without the sales tax increase, the division’s would be $3.52 million, and the city would have to determine whether to cut homelessness services or something else to compensate.

The Lawrence city manager’s proposed budget would ask voters to approve a .05% sales tax increase to fund homelessness solutions. (Via Lawrence City Commission meeting agenda for July 9, 2024)

Parks & Rec

The budget recommends reducing $660,000 from the parks and recreation budget, which would mean reductions to operating hours for rec centers and pools; landscape maintenance and annual plantings; trimmings at cemeteries; and pro shop and concession hours at Eagle Bend Golf Course, according to a presentation in the meeting agenda.

Martin Park and the east end of Clinton Outlet Park would be closed, and the mowed paths at Mutt Run Dog Park would be eliminated.

Regarding Prairie Park Nature Center, the budget recommends “reduction in feeding supplies budget, which may cause staff to rehome some display animals.”

The budget also recommends removing older parks and outdated and inaccessible playgrounds and restrooms without replacing them as planned. That would include removing shelters at Clinton Outlet, Deerfield and Broken Arrow parks; playgrounds at Clinton Outlet, Park Hill No. 1, Chaparral and McSwain parks and the Broken Arrow south playground; and the restroom at Brook Creek Park, according to the presentation in the meeting agenda.

Lawrence Police Department

The proposed budget would increase the budget for animal control by $49,000, to $656,000 total. Many of our readers have voiced concerns about issues with animal control service availability in recent years.

The budget would maintain downtown foot patrol police officers; eliminate positions of a community service technician (unarmed report taker) and a non-sworn investigator in the Special Victims Unit that will be vacated later this year; and leave a mental health co-responder position unfilled, according to the agenda item.

Plans would also add online reporting for the public to make police reports.

View the full agenda item and budget proposal at this link. See the complete meeting agenda at this link.

Lawrence residents also pay property taxes to Douglas County, the school district and the state. The proposed Douglas County budget would also increase property taxes for most residents. Read more about that at this link. The school district’s budget proposal is generally released in August or September.

Lawrence city commissioners will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 9 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., for the first of multiple discussions on the proposed budget. A public hearing on the budget is tentatively set for Aug. 20, and commissioners will consider adopting the budget on Sept. 10.

Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/@lawrenceksvideo, and Midco channel 25.

People may submit written public comment until noon the day of the meeting by emailing ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. The commission also hears public comment in person and via Zoom during meetings. Register for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting at this link

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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.

Note: The headline on this post has been corrected from a previous version.

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