Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

ECO2 advances sales tax proposal

April 10, 2002

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Think fast.

After two years of preparations, members of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's ECO2 committee agreed Tuesday to ask voters to approve a 1/4-cent sales tax in November to help finance acquisition of land for industrial development and preservation of open space.

To get there, committee members want to stage five meetings during the next three weeks to collect public input. Two meetings would be in Lawrence, and the others would be in Baldwin, Eudora and Lecompton.

Kelvin Heck, co-chairman of the committee, said the timetable was brisk but workable. Aside from the 18 members of ECO2, plenty of people have been digesting the sales-tax idea for months.

It's time to get on with it, he said.

"People are ready to weigh in on the subject," said Heck, a commercial broker for Grubb & Ellis/The Winbury Group. "The sooner we do it, the sooner we capitalize on whatever momentum there is with ECO2. I think it's much less effective if we drag it out any longer."

Driving the effort is the push for an increase in the countywide sales tax. The money generated by a 1/4-cent sales tax  an estimated $22.6 million in 10 years  would be used by an appointed committee of volunteers to finance land purchases for industrial development and preservation of open space.

ECO2 members want county voters to weigh in on the proposal Nov. 5, the next general election. But that won't happen unless Douglas County commissioners agree to put the measure on the ballot.

Commissioner Charles Jones, who serves on ECO2, said he supported taking the question to a vote. But commissioners Jere McElhaney and Bob Johnson have expressed misgivings about the plan, especially its proposal to split tax proceeds 50-50 between industrial and open-space programs.

But no matter what happens, ECO2 members said they closed out Tuesday morning's meeting with appreciation for the community-building effort. After all, the committee was born after open-space advocates fought the chamber's plans to bring an American Eagle Outfitters distribution center to the edge of town.

The center never materialized in the East Hills Business Park, but ECO2's lines of communication remain open.

"We've accomplished something huge at this point," said Myles Schachter, addressing his fellow ECO2 volunteers at meeting's end. "And we've done it through consensus."

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