Archive for Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Plan calls for those who want roundabouts to pay up

May 18, 2005


Here's an idea for finding out how popular roundabouts actually are in Lawrence -- start requiring the neighbors who ask for them to pay the bill for building them.

That was the suggestion Tuesday from Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, who pitched the idea to city commissioners during hearings for the 2006 budget.

Soules said the idea should apply to both roundabouts and other traffic-calming devices like traffic circles and speed cushions. Currently, the city at-large pays 100 percent of the costs of traffic-calming devices requested by neighborhoods. In the case of roundabouts, those costs can easily run more than $200,000 each.

"I think it would be a good way to find out how much people really want these," Soules said.

Plus, Soules said requiring neighbors to pay at least part of the bill would be consistent with other city policies. For example, most new neighborhood streets are paid for 100 percent through benefit districts and special assessments that ultimately are paid by property owners in the neighborhood, usually over a number of years. Soules also said some traffic signals were paid for by property owners, if the traffic signal primarily benefits a particular development or area.

"Traffic-calming devices are really more of a benefit to the neighborhoods that they're in than they are to the entire city," Soules said. "It would be more of a pay-as-you-go approach."

The idea caught some city commissioners flat-footed.

"I think we need to look at it, but I'm not sure we should do it yet," said Mayor Boog Highberger. "I just don't know yet."

Fair plan?

Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, said neighbors might be willing to participate in benefit districts if it means a project will turn into reality.

"We want to do what we need to do to protect our kids, and if that means talking about a benefit district, then I guess we will," Klingenberg said.

But she also said she wasn't sure it would always be fair to ask neighbors to pay. She lives in the West Lawrence Neighborhood near Harvard Road, which is an area slated for new devices.

"My concern is that in our neighborhood it seems like the city has created our problems," said Klingenberg, who believes new development at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive is creating more cut-through traffic in her area.

The city currently has seven traffic-calming projects that it has approved but for which funding is not yet devoted. The city's proposed capital improvement program has $100,000 in it for constructing traffic-calming devices.

If city commissioners began asking neighbors to pay, Soules said, some of that $100,000 could be used to do more traditional street maintenance projects.

Other developments

Other items that commissioners discussed at Tuesday's budget hearings included:

  • A request from the city's Finance Department to add a new field technician that would allow the city to become more aggressive in shutting off water and sewer service to city residents delinquent on their utility bills.

The city wrote off $110,000 in uncollected utility bills in 2004, said Ed Mullins, the city's director of finance. He said the new position likely could reduce that amount by $15,000. The position also would be used to replace aging water meters that may not be accurately measuring water usage. The new position would cost about $30,000 to add.

  • A request from the city's Human Relations Department to fund 50 percent of the department's existing housing program manager position. The position currently is funded 100 percent by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, but some of that funding will be lost. The request would add $24,000 to the city's budget. The department also is asking for a new field representative who would help process discrimination complaints related to unfair housing or business practices that the department receives. That position would add about $50,000 to the city's budget.

City commissioners will continue with budget hearings at 9 a.m. today at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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