Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

Bill payment and other tasks spread out as municipal departments grow

August 19, 2002


There was a time when you could walk into City Hall and  if you were so inclined  pay your water bill, apply for building permits and buy tickets to Worlds of Fun all in one trip.

No longer. You would have to travel to three buildings, scattered across downtown, to perform those tasks.

The Neighborhood Resources Department, where you could get the permits, moved last year to the basement of nearby Riverfront Plaza.

And in the past month, the city's Human Relations Department and Parks and Recreation Department (which sells the amusement park tickets) have moved to the second floor of the new Downtown 2000 building at 10th and New Hampshire streets.

Officials say the reasons for this City Hall sprawl are twofold. City departments are growing along with Lawrence, they say. And the best way to encourage construction of apartments in the Downtown 2000 project was to guarantee the city would rent part of the building for its own offices.

"It didn't seem practical to add here" at City Hall, City Manager Mike Wildgen said. "If you look at the site here, there's not room for additional space."

And there's a precedent, he said: During the 1970s, the city leased two floors of office space in what is now the Firstar Bank building at Ninth and Massachusetts streets, before City Hall was built in the early 1980s at Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

But the end of "one-stop shopping" for city services comes in a year when much has been made of the user-friendliness of local government.

"I think the ideal, certainly, would be to have everybody under one roof," Mayor Sue Hack said. "But as services grow and the need to serve citizens grows, we need space to meet those needs. It's not going to all occur in City Hall, that's for sure."

However, she said, "I think we have to be careful that we don't set up a system that's difficult for citizens."

The expansion comes with a cost. The city pays $9,506 per month for the Downtown 2000 offices and $5,302 for the space in Riverfront Plaza. And unlike payments for a building the city owns, those payments will never end as long as the city occupies those spaces.

"It's just kind of the cost of providing services," Hack said.

There are benefits to the arrangement, officials said. Parks and Recreation Director Fred DeVictor said he was happy to have all of his administrators under one roof  the new office brings together employees who had worked in three buildings.

"It's going to help us immensely," DeVictor said. "It's going to help our communications within our department."

But DeVictor will have to make more effort to communicate in person with other city officials. Until last month, he was just a few doors away from Wildgen's office.

"Before, I could just slip down the hall," he said. "Here, it takes a little bit of planning to make two or three appointments and go at one time."

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