Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Funding for open space expected to come in 2007

April 22, 2006

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Supporters of a Douglas County open space program have circled 2007 as the year that they believe government leaders will start to fund the idea.

RoxAnne Miller, executive director of the Lawrence-based Kansas Land Trust, said she's encouraged that city and county commissioners are interested in an idea put forward by the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Board to fund open space projects and create new industrial parks.

"I think we're basically getting all the signals that some funding will happen in 2007," said Miller, who is on the economic development board. "If that happens, I think that will be a great first step."

Several city and county commissioners have expressed support for the concept, but they've stopped short of saying exactly how it would be funded. But thus far, the early favorite is an approximately two-mill property tax increase that would raise $20 million over the next 10 years.

Commissioners, along with members of the economic development board, have favored that option over a 1/4 cent sales tax that would raise about the same amount of money over 10 years.

The sales tax would require a countywide vote before it could be implemented. The property tax increase would not require a public election.

"To me, the projects we're talking about are community obligations," said Mike Maddox, a local banker and board member of the economic development board. "It's up to the city and county commission to step up and say we're going to fix this."

A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. For the owner of a $200,000 home, a 2 mill increase would increase property taxes by $46 per year.

The idea of preserving open space and creating additional industrial development has been discussed for the past several years by the county-appointed ECO 2 board and the city-county appointed economic development board.

City and county commissioners have said an industrial development and open space program is needed to help keep the community healthy in the future.

"If we're going to have a balanced tax base in the future, we have to add some industrial space," City Commissioner Boog Highberger said. "And if we are going to have a good quality of life, we have to preserve open space."

Priority projects

The economic development board already has selected four open space projects that it believes could be accomplished by 2015 if local governments provide funding. They are:

¢ Kansas River pedestrian bridge: The bridge would cross the river at approximately North Eighth and Oak streets in North Lawrence. It would connect to trails along the Kansas River and city trails that would lead all the way to the Wakarusa River. The entire bridge and trail project is estimated to cost $5 million. The board recommends funding at least $1.5 million to get the project started.

¢ Black Jack Battlefield preservation: The board recommends $300,000 go toward paying for land costs and restoring native prairies at the battlefield site, which is east of Baldwin near U.S. Highway 56.

¢ Baldwin Woods preservation: Another $300,000 would be devoted to purchasing a conservation easement to ensure that development doesn't occur on 100 acres of high-quality forest land immediately west of Kansas University's Breidenthal Biological Reserve near County Road 1055 north of Baldwin.

¢ Native prairie preservation: The report recommends $250,000 to preserve pieces of native prairie that still exist in the county. A specific location hasn't been finalized, but Miller said there were still several pieces of native prairie in Douglas County in need of preservation, including some near Lone Star Lake.

Farmland factor

Economic development board members have said that their No. 1 priority for industrial projects would be a redevelopment of the vacant Farmland Industries site into a functioning business park. But questions surround that project because the plant - located just east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10 - is wrapped up in Farmland's bankruptcy proceedings. Any sale of the property would have to be approved by the court.

Other possible industrial projects could include developing an industrial park near the Lawrence Municipal Airport near the Kansas Turnpike.

City and county commissioners are expected to discuss industrial and open space funding as part of their 2007 budget proceedings, which will take place this summer.

Staff writer Mark Fagan contributed to this report.

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