Prepare for stiffer fees and fines

June 9, 2009


City Commissioners got their first peek Monday at the proposed 2010 budget. Commission surveys proposed budget

Lawrence residents should not expect a higher property tax bill from City Hall, but they should prepare for higher fees and fines for everything from speeding to golf.
“We anticipate the mill levy will be stable, the budget will be balanced, and the unhappiness will be evenly distributed,” City Manager David Corliss told city commissioners Monday as he outlined major items he expects to include in his recommended 2010 city budget.
Corliss said it is clear that the economic times make it imprudent to raise the city’s property tax mill levy. He said he expects the city’s tax rate to remain unchanged from its current level, which means some homeowners may pay slightly less in property taxes to the city because property values are on the decline in many areas.
But Corliss said he plans to recommend a host of fee increases to offset lower property tax revenues. Among the increases Corliss plans to pursue:
• Downtown parking: Corliss is promoting a plan that would raise the fine for overtime parking at downtown meters to $3 from the current $2.
The time limit for parking at Massachusetts Street meters also would be changed from two hours to 1.5 hours. Corliss is recommending that the city issue tickets for all meters downtown from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Currently, enforcement ends at 5 p.m. Corliss said he is proposing that parking remain free on Sundays.
City commissioners ultimately will get to decide how to set the rates, and some said they may look at being more aggressive.
“I think we all had a consensus that $2 was just a really small fine,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said. “I thought we might be talking about an increase that was a little larger.”
Corliss is estimating the proposed changes would generate about $164,000 in new revenue.
• Speeding and traffic fines: Corliss said he plans to recommend the fine for driving 1 to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit increase from $38 to $50. Fines for other traffic offenses — such as running a stop sign, improper turns and driving left of center — would increase from $68 to $80. Fines for a notice to appear on parking fines would increase from $40 to $55. Court costs would remain steady at $52.
Corliss said he also expects the city will issue more tickets in 2010 because his budget will recommend filling all vacant police officer positions. “We will benefit from having a fully staffed police department,” he said. “Speeders won’t benefit.”
The higher fines are expected to raise about $250,000 in new revenue.
• Parks and Recreation fees: Corliss is proposing that the Prairie Park Nature Center and the South Park Wading Pool both start charging admission fees. Currently, both are free. Corliss said he’s awaiting a recommendation from the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on what those fees should be.
Corliss said he is not recommending adding fees to use the city’s community buildings, weight rooms or cardio rooms. He said he’s also not recommending a reduction in hours at recreation centers.
Golfers at the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course could see higher fees. The current proposal is to increase weekend greens fees by $2 and to increase the fees for carts by $1, Corliss said. Prices for annual passes also would increase by $50.
• Utilities: Corliss did not provide specific information on water, sewer or trash rates. But he said increases in those areas would be considered.
At least two job losses also are being proposed by Corliss. Corliss said he’s proposing to eliminate the city’s two Human Relations investigator positions. Corliss said the three attorneys in the city’s Legal Services Department could pick up the caseload of the investigators.
The investigators examine complaints of housing and employment discrimination throughout the city. Corliss said the department has had fewer than 10 cases for the first quarter of the year.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx said, however, he had concerns about eliminating those positions and wanted it discussed further by commissioners.
For the most part, though, commissioners did not express much opposition to Corliss’ proposals.
“I think we’re coming to a fairly revenue-neutral situation, and we’re not considering lots of major staffing changes,” Chestnut said. “I know there are municipalities in situations much more dire.”
Corliss will present a complete recommended budget in early July. Commissioners have until late August to approve a 2010 budget.