Archive for Sunday, April 11, 1999

DEPARTING COMMISSIONERS LEAVING LEGACIES

April 11, 1999

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Three city commissioners leaving office Tuesday night have worked a combined 18 years to make Lawrence a better place to live.

An open-ended sales tax to finance parks and recreation and a revenue stream for drainage projects.

The revitalization of North Lawrence through a rebuilt road, new sewers and a restored railroad depot.

The attraction of new high-investment, high-paying industries to Lawrence.

These are the legacies to be left behind by John Nalbandian, Bob Moody and Bonnie Augustine, three Lawrence city commissioners who will close out their terms in office Tuesday night.

Nalbandian, Moody and Augustine, who decided against seeking re-election this spring, all said they were prepared to slip back into their respective private lives as a professor, advertising salesman and between-jobs banker.

They know that their replacements -- Jim Henry, Mike Rundle and David Dunfield -- will have plenty to look forward to when sworn into office soon after 6:35 p.m. Tuesday in a temporary meeting room at the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets, Sixth and Massachusetts.

"It's been the best experience of my life," Augustine said of her term on the commission. "I'm sorry to see it come to an end, but a change in leadership can also be a good thing, because they bring new ideas and new vitality."

Together, the outgoing group represents a combined 18 years of commission experience and accounted for half of the mayoral terms during the past eight years.

Nalbandian pleased

Nalbandian, a professor of public administration at Kansas University, is stepping aside after eight years in office, including two as mayor.

During his tenure, the city's budget has grown from $44 million to $79.2 million, and at least one new fee and tax have gone on the books.

The biggest -- a 1-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 1994 -- came to city hall under Nalbandian's arm as a way to pay for at least a dozen new parks and recreation areas, expand office space for three public health agencies, build a new county jail and cut property taxes enough to offset the cost of building a second public high school.

The plan worked. Voters approved the new tax, and the city entered a new era of spending, construction and cooperation among local governments.

Add the city's new "stormwater utility" -- a $2-a-month fee for the typical homeowner that pours millions of dollars into the city budget for maintaining and building new drainage-improvement projects across town -- and Nalbandian is pleased that the future of Lawrence is in sound shape, both physically and fiscally.

"Both the sales tax and the stormwater fee have something in common: They both represent a willingness on the part of citizens to spend money -- tax money -- to improve the quality of life in the community," Nalbandian said. "It really speaks well for the citizens of the city that they decided to do this."

But with the victories also came defeats.

A $13.3 million community center planned for Centennial Park -- the centerpiece of the parks and recreation master plan backed by the sales tax -- ultimately was abandoned. Wasted in the effort was $800,000 spent on engineering and architectural plans.

And the city's drainage fees bring in only half the money needed to get the necessary projects completed as planned.

Still, Nalbandian has no regrets.

"You have to doubt yourself as a city commissioner about what you're doing, because if you don't have any doubts you don't have any reason to listen to anybody," he said.

Moody reflects

Although he hates the unofficial title, Moody will leave office after six years known as "the North Lawrence commissioner," thanks to all the projects he helped get approved for his longtime neighborhood.

A new Maple Grove Pump Station helps drain the area during periods of heavy rain. The reconstruction of North Second Street -- the neighborhood's main street, which links the Kansas Turnpike with downtown Lawrence -- brought wider lanes, better drainage and new landscaping. A new $2.7 million pump station and sanitary sewer pipes help prevent sewage backups, even as new homes and businesses come calling.

Then there's the renovation of the Union Pacific Depot, an effort that started with Moody as president of the North Lawrence Improvement Assn. and ended with him dedicating its new visitor center, public meeting spaces and community gardens as Lawrence mayor.

"I don't want to be perceived as the North Lawrence commissioner, but these are issues that I felt truly needed to be dealt with regardless of where they are," Moody said. "I'm glad to get them done. I think they were, in some cases, long overdue."

Moody, as mayor, also is remembered for taking on Lawrence Memorial Hospital's Board of Trustees. He fought to expand the board, and he chose not to reappoint two members whose philosophies did not fit into Moody's future vision.

In subsequent years, the board withstood an assault from Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which unsuccessfully sought to build a new hospital in town, and hired a new hospital administrator to succeed its longtime leader, who resigned.

"I chose for a new direction because I thought the hospital was at a turning point," said Moody, a local landlord and an advertising salesman for The Trading Post. "Now I think it's on the right path."

Augustine remembers

Four years after winning her first bid for elective office, Augustine can see that the long hours paid off.

Working with local business officials, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce representatives and other community leaders, Augustine helped produce several new and expanded industries in town.

Among them: Jayhawk Bowling Supply & Equipment Inc., which completed a nearly $900,000 relocation project; and ProSoCo Inc., which is building a $6.58 million corporate headquarters and production building in the East Hills Business Park.

The big one: Sauer-Sundstrand Co., which recently embarked on a $35.4 million project at East Hills, the largest single private economic-development project in Lawrence history.

Big or small, such accomplishments make Augustine smile.

"It expands the tax base and allows employment opportunities in our community instead of going to neighboring towns," said Augustine, former president of Peoples Bank in Lawrence. "I'm equally as proud of seeing Jayhawk Bowling expand and convincing them that they should stay in our community as I am of Sauer-Sundstrand."

Augustine, like Moody, wishes the commission could have wrapped up plans for expanding and renovating the Lawrence Arts Center before leaving office, but she also understands that all of the city's work is never done. Soon after joining the commission in 1995, Augustine saw a plan that called for $155 million worth of projects to upgrade water and sewer systems in town.

Today, officials still are working toward a $40.5 million expansion and renovation of the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant at 1400 E. Eighth.

"It's an ongoing process and long-term planning," Augustine said. "We're seeing the fruits of that labor now."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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