Chat about the Lawrence City Commission race with candidate David Schauner
February 22, 2007
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
David Schauner, who is general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association, began serving on the commission in 2003. Schauner last won re-election in 2005, when he finished third in the race and received a two-year term. The top two finishers get four-year terms. In his four years on the commission, Schauner said he was pleased that commissioners had been able to lower the city's property tax mill levy. Schauner, 61, also said he would make completing a backlog of street, sidewalk, sewer and other infrastructure projects his top spending priority during a new term. He said he only would be comfortable moving forward on large-dollar projects, such as a new library or new recreational complex, if voters specifically approved the project.
This is 6 News Reporter Laura McHugh. I'll be moderating our chat with current city commissioner and candidate David Schauner. David's partner and campaign volunteer Cheryl Hewitt is here to help with the typing. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Why is the Wakarusa Water treatment facility estimated to run 33% over budget .Why can't the city estimate project costs accurately ?
DearCowboy, Thanks for your question, the estimates for the water treatment plan were first made in 2003. A number of costs have gone up in that 3-year period including steel and other materials needed to operate the plant. The city has made as reliable estimate as possible under the circumstances.
What is your view of the proposed domestic partnership registry?
Dear Souki, Thanks for your inquiry about this important issue. I voted to support creation of the registry and believe that it will offer a valuable benefit to all unmarried couples without regard to sexual orientation if their employers choose to make those benefits available.
Do you support a new library for Lawrence? What is your view on the current proposal before the city commission?
Dear Komorgan, This issue seems to be one of the most consistent and important issues facing the city in the next few years. I support building a modern library. I strongly support building that facility downtown. I also believe that the library should be a city-only project. Ultimately, the city must put this item on a ballot for public vote, both as to whether such a project is built and how it is financed.
What do you think, in general, of the property market in Lawrence? Do you think that Lawrence home prices are higher then surrounding areas, and if so, to what do you attribute their higher prices? Is there something you think the city can or should do to help first home buyers who make $35,000 a year (or less) afford to purchase a home of their own?
Dear Justthefacts, Lawrence housing prices are higher than our surrounding communities which makes it difficult for first-time home buyers to qualify to buy a house. There are a number of factors that influence the cost of housing and based on conversations I have had with local realtors, the cost of raw ground in Lawrence seems to be a significant factor in this price differential. The city continues to make efforts through our housing programs to provide additional housing available at affordable prices. However, the city has limited tools with which to provide large amounts of affordable housing that would meet the needs of this sector of the home buyer market. The city is committed to working towards increasing our stock of this housing through our Housing Trust Program.
How do you propose to solve the escalating property taxes while maintaining our current infrastructure needs and enhancing our city with better amenities such as an expanded library and the annual costs that are associated with it?
Dear abby, What a great name for an online chat! The city funds most of its general fund operations with either sales or property taxes. The State of Kansas does not give the city any other revenue tools. In 2004, I worked to maintain or reduce the city mill levy and our mill levy has remained constant since that time. However, the county appraiser has increased assessed valuations an average of 5-7% each year during that same period of time. The simple truth is all new projects and amenities must be paid for with revenue from either sales or property taxes. The city must prioritize which projects it can afford and make the difficult decisions about which projects not to fund. In short, no matter how worthwhile any project may be, it will require sales tax or property tax support. There is no 'magic bullet' or revenue stream that will solve these problems or pay for these projects.
Can you name three areas of city operation costs where you feel there are efficiencies to be realized ?
Dear cowboy, I suspect there are efficiencies to be realized in every department of city government. I believe we should change our reliance on consultants for public projects. Much of this work can and should be done by city staff. I also believe that our take-home car policy needs to be reviewed and reduce the number of vehicles taken home by our employees. These vehicles should be on an emergency call basis. Lastly, I believe that our transit system, although it is showing increased ridership, must constantly review its operation procedures and routes to make the 'T' an even more attractive option. One last thing would be to look at increasing our reliance on alternative fuels for our city fleet and reducing the size of our vehicles whenever possible.
what have you done for this town since elected
Dear concrete, The things I am proudest of in my four years on the commission include lowering the mill levy, adopting a modernized development and sub-division code, making strides toward developing a one-stop shop for dealing with our neighborhood resources and planning departments, making plans for building a waste-water treatment plant that will serve the city's future growth needs, updating our waste-water transportation network to serve our newest sub-division requests on the west edge of town and finally, being part of a top-to-bottom review of city services and approving the hiring of an internal city auditor. In addition, the city is moving forward on its biosciences support including working with The Kansas Biosciences Authority to attract good jobs at the East Hills Business Park. Further, we have begun a serious effort to acquire the Farmland Industry property to be used as an employment center.
Many people have labeled you "anti-growth", but you say you are for "Smart growth". Looking at your past voting history, what growth issue have you supported?
Dear flyi_squirrel, I believe that smart growth should mean quality and sustainable growth. I have supported a number of projects, both in-fill and green field that meet that definition. In truth, if you examine the number of housing projects and others that have been approved in the past 4 years, you will find that nearly every proposal submitted has been approved.
Will you vote YES or NO on Walmart?
Dear chic, The Walmart question is currently in the Douglas County District Court and trial of this matter is scheduled for April 16, 2007. The original Walmart proposal was for a land use that was not permitted at that location. Walmart is a department store and department stores are not a permitted land use at 6th and Wakarusa. Further, K-DOT's traffic studies suggest that the density of development proposed at this location would cause that intersection to provide an unacceptable level of service for the travelling public. At this point, there is no opportunity for the city commission to vote yes or no on the Walmart proposal. I have not supported the proposals from Walmart that I have seen during my tenure on the commission.
What would you rank as the most important issue facing the City of Lawrence and why is more important than other issues being discussed?
Dear commonsense, Lawrence must find a balance between being a bedroom community and a city where we offer good jobs, cultural activities and the other amenities that Lawrencians have come to expect. The latest cost-of-growth study found that residential growth does not pay all costs related to its development (police, fire, streets, water, sewer, schools and general city services.) That does not mean we will or should stop growing, but it means we must find a balance of residential and business growth that will enable the city to offer services at a price that our taxpayers can afford. Unless we find that balance, we are at risk of losing the charm and character for which Lawrence is known.
How do you feel about tax abatements after seeing the economic benifits Eagle Outfitters has created in Ottawa?
Dear flyin_squirrel, Unfortunately, the wages paid by Eagle Outfitters coupled with the fact that many of those jobs do not the employees for health benefits would make it difficult for these employees to live in Lawrence. I was not on the commission that dealt with Eagle Outfitters, however, the city continues to use tax abatements as one tool to attract new businesses. In fact, while I have been on the commission, we approved and I supported, a substantial abatement to Packer Plastics for a $90,000,000 expansion of their existing plant. This enabled a long-time Lawrence employer to not only remain in Lawrence, but add additional jobs. Economic development is driven by adding new jobs that pay good wages which enable employees to live in Lawrence and participate in our economy. Simply adding additional retail opportunities does not equal economic development.
Thank you for joining us today and to David for answering our readers' questions.
Laura, thanks to you and those who participated in discussing issues that will affect all of us in Lawrence for the future. I encourage all of us to work for projects and decisions that provide the greatest good for the greatest number. I look forward to continuing this debate and discussion of issues in the next few weeks. Remember to vote Feb. 27. Thanks for your support.