Another budget shortfall prompts layoffs in Lawrence

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Three jobs have been cut and others could be in jeopardy in the city of Lawrence, thanks to the second year in a row of major budget gaps.

Less than a year ago, two dozen EMS personnel lost their jobs in Lawrence as part of a budget shortfall.

This time around, the city said it needs to make up another $1.2 million. Much of that money comes from unanticipated property tax refunds and the state’s property tax cap. The amount also includes a $202,000 gap in income taxes. There’s also a $250,000 withholding by the state, after Lawrence failed to properly advertise its last budget passage.

“It is the second year in a row (of cuts). We had hoped not to be here,” Mayor Dean Jessup said.

Jessup sent a letter to city employees, outlining all of the budget problems and his plans to make up the money.

Among the suggestions is a plan to call on bidders for the city’s sanitation and mowing services. The city said it would request that bidders hire on current employees, but up to 16 jobs could be in jeopardy.

The city also laid off three administrative assistants, making up about 10 percent of the shortfall amount.

“We can upright the ship, so to speak, one time and build on that,” Jessup said.

Still, this is the second time budget woes have hit Lawrence in a year. City Councilor Linda Treat said the council has suggested other ways to make up money, but does not feel those are included in the mayor’s plans.

“People are very frightened,” Treat said.

Jessup’s plans include an increase on some city fees and fines, mostly associated with permitting. He also wants to sell the Sterrett Center, a city-owned building right now.

“What we’re attempting to do is transform government somewhat, (and to change) the way we do business, so that we won’t have to do this every year,” Jessup said.

In the letter to employees, Jessup told them that, “Addressing our health care costs will have a huge impact on our budget and may be able to put more money in your pockets in the years ahead.” He also said that changes …”could make a pay increase for our city employees a real possibility.”

Most of the mayor’s plans will have to go through the common council to take effect. That means another budget process that has Lawrence on edge again.

“In this day and age of tax caps, you don’t have any choices anymore except streamline, streamline, streamline,” Jessup said.

The common council’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19.

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