A chamber of commerce group agrees Douglas County will need 1,000 acres of new industrial lands in the next 25 years if it hopes to slow the community's increases in property taxes and commuters.
But at their Tuesday morning meeting, members of ECO2, a chamber group working to secure a 25-year supply of industrial property and open space, didn't get specific about where those 1,000 acres of property may be located or how many public tax dollars may be needed to pay for it.
Instead, members focused on how voters might be convinced to support public funding to buy or help develop new industrial land. Their answer: more jobs and lower taxes.
"Can I live and work in my community is the most important point we're trying to address with this issue," said Larry Paine, Baldwin City administrator and chair of the ECO2 business park committee. "One of the fears we have is that looking at the national economy, if we have a prolonged recession and all of these commuters can't afford to drive to Kansas City anymore, what would we do?
"Do we have the jobs to satisfy them, or would they have to move? Right now, we may not have the jobs."
ECO2 members said the number of new jobs added in Lawrence in the areas of manufacturing, distribution and white-collar business park employees have not met expectations during the past decade. Coupled with a recent survey that estimates 22 percent of Douglas County residents commute to another community to work, the group concluded the county needs to become more aggressive in job creation.
"The goal of Horizon 2020 was to grow jobs at a rate slightly higher than the growth of population," said Kelvin Heck, chair of the ECO2 group. "What has actually happened is that jobs have grown at a slightly lower rate than population, so we have some catching up to do."
Lower job growth often times results in higher taxes, committee members said. Heck said it is possible voters may be asked to approve a tax increase to fund ECO2 programs, but hopefully the programs will reduce taxes in the long run by expanding the tax base beyond residential properties.
"We would like for this to work in a way that property taxes could eventually be reduced a bit," Heck said. "Hopefully people will be able to see the long-term benefits."
Committee members, though, said they would like to see the group's business park committee come up with more specific goals that could be presented to the public, such as a number of jobs that could be created in a five-year period, and by what types of companies.
The group also is refining the criteria that would be used in determining if a piece of property is suitable for industrial development. Currently the committee has determined that the property would need to be within 1 to 1.5 miles of a highway, on relatively flat land, located outside the floodplain and have reasonable access to sewer and water services.
ECO2 members said they do not expect the entire 1000 acres to be located in one spot, but rather spread out through the county. Members also mentioned the possibility of private developers actually buying the land, but public money being used to help infrastructure and other costs as long as the developers meet certain guidelines.