Lawrence town hall meeting focuses on streets, public safety


Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier and his administration hosted a town hall meeting June 5, his response to the cancellation of the regular Lawrence Common Council meeting.

Council President Tyrrell Giles declined to give a reason for cancelling the regularly scheduled meeting. The council will instead have a special meeting June 14.

Collier opened the town hall with a brief comment before turning the microphone over to staff members. He said it’s important to communicate with citizens, and that was the purpose of the event, which focused specifically on streets and public safety.

Chief of Staff Cori Korn said those topics were the primary concerns brought up during an April town hall meeting. Funding related to those departments are part of a proposal submitted in early May by Collier’s administration to the council to appropriate approximately $3 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds. The council referred the proposal to its finance committee, which has not yet met.

The City of Lawrence received about $11.2 million through the federal ARPA pandemic relief plan. In 2022, the city spent about $5.5 million on sewer and stormwater infrastructure, street paving and other projects. The council decided in early March to move all remaining ARPA funds to the 2024 budget, to be spent on not-yet-identified projects.

Collier’s proposal would amend the ARPA spending plan to fund:

  • $1 million to match a state grant for street improvements.
  • $280,000 to match a grant for trail development and improvements.
  • $1.6 million to replace public safety vehicles.
  • About $50,000 for education and training, and facility repairs for the fire department.
  • About $95,000 for police cameras, and for the police department’s new-hire and promotions process.

If the council approves the appropriation, it will leave about $2.6 million for 2024 projects.

Lawrence Department of Public Works Director Jim Heneghan told the audience that without the ARPA funds to match the state grant, the city will have to use what’s in the budget, which limits additional street improvements that his department wants to do. If the ARPA funds are provided, though, he said they can take care of much-needed street work in more neighborhoods this year.

Heneghan said some streets with chronic pothole problems need to be strip-patched soon.

Fire Chief Dino Batalis said the public safety vehicle replacement funding is critical. He noted that there’s a two- to three-year wait for delivery after ordering a new fire truck, and the price keeps going up. And, he said, waiting means ordering more later.

“You don’t ever want to be in a position where you have to replace all of your equipment at one time,” he said. “We want to keep the service at a high scale, and to do that we need the right equipment.”

Batalis made a plea to the council to approve the appropriation soon.

“We’ve got money sitting there while there’s desperate need for use of that money,” he said. “I hate to see the progress stop. And everybody can take the credit and share in that success (regardless of party affiliation).”

Also on the list of public safety vehicles are 10 new police cars. Deputy Chief Gary Woodruff said the vehicles are essentially mobile offices for police officers.

“To invest in the fleet and continue to replace that fleet is a critical need,” he said. “Other than our staffing needs, the vehicles are the most critical need.”

Like the fire trucks, Woodruff said the cost of police vehicles is increasing. He said that if the city waits until next year, they’ll cost more and they’ll need 20 instead of 10 to maintain the replacement schedule.

City Controller Tyler Douthit said that it makes financial sense to use ARPA funds for the proposed expenses rather than funding them through debt, which would restrict each department’s budget over the long term.

The resolution under consideration by the council was co-sponsored by Council Member Sherron Freeman, representing District 3, who attended the town hall. She said she hopes it passes.

“I would like everything to go through smoothly,” she said. “We need to get it done. We need to work together to get it done.”