County Commissioner Bob Johnson takes your questions
July 11, 2006
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson takes your questions about the Lecompton bridge, the South Lawrence Trafficway and other issues affecting the residents of Douglas County.
Hi folks: We'll get started in a few minutes -- already a lot of questions about the Lecompton bridge.
A reminder: This week we've started with new chat technology that requires you to be a registered user of LJWorld.com to ask a question.
Hi. I look forARD to chatting with you this afternoon!
How do you feel about the ECO2 proposal rewarding some of the same people who have been fighting the South Lawrence Trafficway for all these years by giving them or their cohorts taxpayer subsidized greenspace?
For years we've had vacant industrial ground and buildings. Is there really a need to invest $$ Millions of dollars in additional industrial ground, especially when Lawrence's population has stagnated or reduced in size for the first time ever, and most manufacturing can be done overseas at a far lower cost?
Yes, we do need additional industrial space. The eco2 effort is a joint effort between those who want industrial space and those who want open space. It is a good effort and actually it is working quite well. I don't think of it as rewarding any one group, no do I think it is favoring any one group. I simply think it has great potential for win win!
As I said, lots of Lecompton questions. This one seems fairly representative...
Now that it is a split vote on the Lecompton Bridge, what is going to happen? Does it need to be a 6-0 vote to keep it open (notice I wrote "keep it open")? I sincerely hope that the three Douglas County Commissioners will look past what it would do to business in Lecompton and see the bigger picture. Both of my jobs are in Perry - it would require me to drive 40 minutes each way to get to work versus the 15 minutes now. Plus there are several small businesses in Perry that would be severely damaged by closure. Look outside your immediate area and see the big picture.
I'm not sure exactly what is going to happen! We are talkinf with legal counsel to determine the next step. Eventually the two commissions will need to agree on a plan. My hope is we cn do that with some conversation between the two commissions.
Bob, a number of our readers are asking if there's any chance you'll change your vote on this issue. Is there?
One should never say never, but it isn't likely that I will change my position! I believe I made the right choice, though I admit it wasn't a simple choice betwee what was easy and what was hard. I just have to wait to see if anything develops that I had not considered when reaching my position.
Can you please give further justification for closing the bridge that links Lecompton & Perry. We have been told it's not being based on "money". As a resident that has children going to PLHS I find it ridiculous that the Douglas County Commissioners who are not regular/daily users of this bridge truly believe closing it is the best option.
My decision was not based solely on money, though I admit money is always a part of most decisions that are made using taxpayer funds. If the bridge is open it will take about a year and there will be about 60 days when it will be completely closed, These days will come with very little notice and will almost certainly be at a very uncinvient time. With the bridge closed the everyone has at least a year to plÃ¥n and everyone faces the same hardship. The safety factor for the construction is improved and the quality of the job os better. The School district says the key date is the start of school year, so we can plan to interrupt the end of the school year and be open for the start. I understand your thought about someone in Lawrence making the decision that mostly involves Lecompton, but I don't live in Lawrence. This is the way Government works. We make decisions that impact all of Douglas County, not just our own neighborhoods!
How much an hour does the county pay its county counselor and what is/was the total compensation for last fiscal year for legal services from that officer or his law firm?
I don't remember the exact hourly rate. It is by contract and it seems to me the rate is in the range of $125 per hour, I remember the number is less than the rate that is generally charged by the firm and quite a lot less than the average rate charged by Lawrence attorneys. When we have to get specific counsel for unusual questions, I know we pay much higher rate. I believe our legal bill for the County is in he area of $150,000, but thar includes what is paid by the sheriff's office which includes the jail and other corrections type cost. Don't hold me to these exact numbers, but I think they are close.
Has there ever been any thought or discussion on increasing the county commission to 5 or 7 members? Or do you feel that 3 is adequate representation?
(We're getting close to the end of Bob's available time. If you have any other questions, now's the time to submit.)
I don't recall that there has been any formal conversation about increasing the number of commissioners, but I know the idea has been discussed at different times. Mostly in the context of an election. My personal opinion is with more commissioners you get more government! Why do we feel the need for more government? Each commissioner has a special interest and that puts more programs on the table and the art of politics is compromise. You vote for my project and I'll vote for yours! If 5 is better than 3, why isn't 7 better than 5? Do you think we need more congressmen in Washington?
This will be the last question.
Bob: One issue we haven't touched on today is taxes.
Mike Belt reports in the paper today that the Douglas County Commission appears ready to approve a 1-mill property tax increase for the 2007 budget. And you're quoted saying this:
*Cutting the proposed 30.18 mill levy in support of a $54.18 million budget is doable, "but we would do it at the expense of future generations," Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.*
The question is this: What are the pressing needs that we need to pay for now?
The big expenses that we are considering fall in the category of public health and safety. And I should add the courts, which I tend to regard as part of public safety. Bert Nash wants money for the WRAP program, which is for our children. The Sheriff wants more money for in house legal advisor and two more deputies. The fee for attorneys representing court assigned cases needs to be increased, as it has not changed for about 20 years. Inflation cost have added to all parts of the budget, but it really impacts the cost to maintain our roads. The good news is we can do most all of these things without increasing the mill levy. But to do so, it means we will not put aside any money for those expenses we know are in our future, such as $400,000. to keep the courthouse in good shape and $500,000. which we know will need to be part of a major expense in a few years tyo change our radio systems, We don't want to increase the mill levy, but my sense is we will agree on a very small increase today in order no9t to defer all of the future cost to the next generation.
Thanks Bob. A reminder to readers -- we'll be back here tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. to talk about gas prices. See you then!