Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

Chat transcript with Craig Weinaug

September 22, 2005

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Welcome to our online chat with Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug.

The chat took place on Thursday, September 22, at 2:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat with Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug.

I'm Dave Toplikar, World Online editor, and I'll be moderating today's chat.

Craig, thanks for coming down to our offices here at the News Center and taking part in this cyber discussion.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: I have been looking forward to it.

Moderator: OK, we have a lot of questions already, so we'll go ahead and get started.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: OK

Charles, Lecompton, KS: In the past 5-7 years our taxes have gone up $700. Why can't you people hold the line on taxes. I am retired and on a fixed income. I shouldn't be taxed off of the land and home I worked all my life for. That is exactly what will happen if these taxes go up any more. I have met you, and on a personal level I like you and think you are very competent. So this isn't personal. Thank you.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug prepares for his chat online.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug prepares for his chat online.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: As you probably know, the county's portion of the tax bill is about 20% of the total bill that you receive. The total mill levy is used to support the school districts, cities, the county, a small amount for the state and small amounts for other miscellaneous units of governments like drainage districts. The amount of your taxes is determined by the valuation on the property (which is administered by the county) and the mill levies set by each local government. The mill levy of the county has stayed relatively stable for at least ten years, but there have been a couple of exceptions as we have picked up additional mandated responsibilities from the state, and the state has reduced its fiscal support of local governments.

The bottom line is that the level of taxes set by each government is determined the level of services that we provide. It is your elected officials who determine the balance between affordable taxes, and the public health and safety services that we provide.

James, Lawrence: I was wondering what the cost of living increase for County Employees would be this year and also what range in percent are the merit increases going to be?

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: The Commission has budgeted a 2% adjustment to the pay plan, and we have budgeted for merit increases that will vary between 0% and 4%, but will average no more than 2%.

The fact that it is budgeted does not guarantee that it will happen. The County Commission will decide the appropriate amounts for 2006 in December.

Moderator: Craig, can you provide an update on what is happening with the South Lawrence Trafficway from the county's perspective? Is there anything new regarding this issue or any plans to deal with the SLT in the near future?

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: Nothing is currently happening. The route is settled from the point of view of KDOT and the US Corps of Engineers. However, there are many groups in douglas County that do not consider the issue settled.

The state does not have the funding to complete the project, and does not anticipate having funds in the foreseeable future.

Chris in Lawrence: What are the plans to expand bike paths throughout Lawrence and Douglas County and to perhaps link with Johnson and Shawnee Counties? Do you know any county administrators interested in benefits of bicycling???

Thank you for taking this question.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: There are no current plans to expand paths in the unincorporated parts of the county, but I believe the City has a master plan of projects that they hope to complete in the future. If the trafficway is ever completed, the bike path will also be completed next to it.

In addition, I understand that some federal money is available to plan for a route linking Douglas and Johnson counties along k-10. Unfortunately, that improvement is probably a long was off.

Yes, I do know of at least one county administrator who rides a bike occasionally.

Brian, Lawrence: Road Construction: Highway 442 aka Stull Road. It's been 35 MPH and, even worse, no white lines for 14 days now. Any plans to do any more actual WORK on this, or will we wait for people to drive off the road when they can't see where the blacktop ends and the 25 foot deep ditch begins.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: That project should be completed within the next few days. Please call Public Works at 832-5293 if it is not. Craig

Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Weinaug, what steps are being taken to attract higher paying jobs here in Douglas County? Thank you.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: The City of Lawrence, Douglas County, and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce have a partnership that does the economic development work on behalf of this community. East Hills Business park, the Eudora business park, and all of the businesses that inhabit these parks are some of the historic fruits of that partnership.

Todd, Lecompton: Is the county going to close the Lecompton Bridge? And what would be the point of closing it completely? That could have a big impact on the town.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: Last week, the County Commission authorized hiring an engineer to provide the County Commission with information to assist them with that decision, and then to design the work needed on the bridge. When they make the decision on whether to temporarily close the bridge, it will be after a lot of discussion that will include additional input from citizens of the Lecompton Perry area.

It will not be an easy decision. Closing the bridge for three months will enable the County to complete a better repair for significantly less dollars, but the loss of the bridge for even three months will have a huge detrimental impact on the economies of Perry and Lecompton.

I am glad that I do not get a vote.

Loretta Foster James: I don't know if you remember me from church but i remember you and your mother she was such a sweetheart.

No question today just keep up the good work.

Sincerely Loretta

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: Thank you. It's nice to know that there are at least a few citizens who appreciate what I do.

Sandy, Lawrence: I'm thinking about buying some land out in the county. I know the county passed some moratorium dealing with some sort of exemption. Could you explain it?

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: The County Commission has adopted a moratorium on the use of the five-acre exemption for building permits that expires in a couple of months. The moratorium was adopted to give the County Commission a chance to consider a complete overhaul of the County's development rules. there appears to be consensus between the county commissioners and most groups in the county that the current regulatory scheme is broken and needs to be fixed. We are no longer a rural county. Unfortunately, there is less consensus on what it should be replaced with.

In the meantime, it would probably be a good idea for you to call the Lawrence Douglas County planning Office, or the Douglas County zoning Office with your specific situation, before you decide whether want to buy the land that you are considering. The moratorium does not apply to all requests for building permits so you may still be able to do what you want to do.

Jenny Lawrence: How much money does the county pay for legal advice in a year? What is the hourly rate paid to the county counselor? How does that compare over the years, and if it's going up and up, why doesn't the county just hire a full time county counselor like other larger counties?

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: I don't remember the exact terms of the contract that we have with Evan Ice, but he is paid an hourly rate that is competitive.

From time to time, we review the question of whether we are big enough to hire a full-time county counselor as a county employee. but to date, we have always concluded that the current contractual arrangement allows us to get a range of expertise from different attorneys at a much lower cost than hiring a full-time qualified attorney.

Historical, w spend 90 to 100 thousand a ear on legal services, but only a portion of that is paid to Mr. ice's firm.

Chet, Lawrence: It seems that the county commissioners seem to genuinely like each other, and value each others' input on issues. Even the tough ones. Do you think this makes for better government, or should the county be more like the city and have personal issues and backgrounds making for livelier, and potentially more divisive, discussions?

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: Douglas County is blessed with a lot of citizens that care deeply about our community. those citizens can at times be passionate about their visions of how the county should be governed and what the county should look like in the near and distant future. The citizens of Douglas County have elected three county commissioners who are true leaders, but at times their visions differ, as you would expect.

Fortunately, Commissioner Jones, McElhaney, and Johnson work very hard at working to understand each other and their differences, and have managed to mold good policies out of their differences. They are a good bunch to work for.

Mason, Baldwin City: I have a question concerning public safety on 59-HWY. Since I have been traveling 59-HWY over the past 5-years I have noticed several accidents at the major intersections. In particular, 56-HWY, N. 650th Rd, and N. 1000th Rd. Are there any plans to put in stop signs, stop lights, or roundabouts to improve safety and save lives. I have two children who will have to cross 59-HWY in a school bus in the next few years when they start middle school in Baldwin and I want to make sure they are safe.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug: The placement of traffic control devices on state highways is a prerogative of KDOT. However, the County has a traffic safety advisory committee that is very effective in reviewing situations like you describe, and making recommendations for improvement.

I suggest that you call the Douglas County Public Woks department at 832-5293 with your suggestions.

Moderator: That will have to be our final question of the day.

Craig, thanks for coming by today and taking part in this online dialogue with the public.

And I'd also like to thank all of our readers for their questions.

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