It seems unlikely that the city is growing as slowly as the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Lawrence planners told city commissioners Tuesday night.
City commissioners unanimously agreed to formally challenge the Census Bureau's 2005 population estimate that showed the city's population declined by 26 people. If correct, that would be the first time since at least 1900 the city had lost residents.
"I think the financial implications to not challenging this could be huge," City Commissioner Sue Hack said, noting that the census figures are used to determine grant amounts to the city. "I think it would be irresponsible to not push this to the limit."
Planning staff members said the city had good data to support the contention that Lawrence has grown much quicker than the Census Bureau estimated. The city pegs Lawrence's population at 89,643 at the end of 2005, while the Census Bureau believes it was 81,816 on July 1, 2005.
Dan Warner and Amy Miller, both long-range planners for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, presented a report that showed Lawrence had issued building permits for slightly more than 3,700 new residential living units since the 2000 census. Using the Census Bureau's own number of 2.3 people per living unit, that should mean the city's population has grown by more than 8,000 people. The Census Bureau, though, estimates the city has grown by about 1,700.
More on local census numbers
- Census, city disagree on population (08-24-06)
- 6News video: City may file census appeal (08-23-06)
- Latest Census survey shows snapshots of life in Lawrence (08-15-06)
- Small town boom (07-02-06)
- Chat with Xan Wedel about latest U.S. Census figures (06-22-06)
- No population bounce here (06-21-06)
- Numbers can have broad implications (06-21-06)
Planning staff members also pointed to city utility records. The number of city water bills issued increased by about 3,600 during the five-year period following the last census. Staff members said that data also show the city is growing.
Not everyone is convinced. James Dunn, a longtime Lawrence landlord, said the utility bill method was an outdated way of estimating population. He said many landlords don't shut off water service to vacant units because of the city's fee to reconnect.
Dunn also questioned one of the key assumptions made by city planners. The planners said they were using a citywide vacancy rate of 4.2 percent, which is the number used in the 2000 census. Dunn said the city has seen a significant increase in rental vacancy rates since 2000, following a period when home mortgage rates reached historic lows. About 20,000 - or 55 percent - of the city's living units are rentals.
"I think we have slowed down growthwise," Dunn said. "Look at the school district. They say their numbers are down. I don't think we have the underlying economy to support as much growth as we once did. We're a community that is based a lot on commuters."
The city will ask Douglas County commissioners to join it in challenging the numbers. By getting the county to join the challenge, the city will be able to request that Douglas County's total population be adjusted upward.
If the county doesn't join the challenge, any change in Lawrence's population would require a reduction in the population of other Douglas County communities.
"We don't want to do anything that will hurt Douglas County as a whole," said interim City Manager David Corliss.
Staff members said several other communities - including Ottawa and Manhattan in 2003 - have successfully challenged census estimates.
Sewer plant site gets commission's OK
City commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday night that a site southeast of Lawrence is the best location for a new $80 million sewer plant.
Commissioners told staff members to proceed with negotiations to buy 530 acres of the property, which is south of the Wakarusa River and near East 1600 Road.
More about the plant
Engineers and planners recommended the site as the best of seven that were evaluated. The property does not include any homes that will have to be relocated, and provides for a significant amount of buffer ground between the plant and other homes in the area.
Commissioners did not agree on a price for the property, which currently is owned by about five landowners. Negotiations to purchase the property could be completed by this summer, Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun said. The plant is scheduled to open in 2010.
Dog owner objects to city ordinance
Commissioners heard from Lawrence resident Kathy Gragg, who said the city's dangerous dog ordinance was seriously flawed.
Gragg was cited under the ordinance last year after her 4-month-old bull terrier escaped from its yard on two occasions. Once it went to a nearby school, and another time it jumped its fence and went into a neighbor's backyard where a young child was playing.
The dog has been sentenced to be put to sleep by Municipal Court. Gragg said the dog is not dangerous and noted that it did not bite anyone in either case.
She said the Lawrence Humane Society does not properly test dogs to determine whether they are a threat to public safety. She also said animal control officers are not required to have enough training in animal sciences.
City commissioners took no action but did ask staff members to more closely review Gragg's concerns.
City to help fund homecoming party
City commissioners are on board with a proposed downtown party that would take place the day before Kansas University's homecoming game.
Commissioners agreed to provide $5,000 to the Get Downtown event that is being sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the KU Alumni Association and area businesses.
The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 6. in the one-block area of Eighth Street between New Hampshire and Massachusetts streets.