Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Water meter policy again at issue

County leaders ask city for fewer restrictions on rural areas

May 23, 2007


Douglas County commissioners on Tuesday urged city commissioners to remove decades-old restrictions on the number of water meters that can be added to rural areas of the county.

Financial planner tapped for investment board

Douglas County commissioners on Tuesday appointed Don Duncan, Lawrence, to the Douglas County Investment Advisory Committee.Duncan is vice president at Morgan Stanley and certified as a financial planner.The investment advisory committee works with County Treasurer Paula Phillips.Commissioners met for about an hour Tuesday, most of it in a closed-door executive session to discuss personnel issues and other matters protected under the attorney-client relationship.

But city commissioners stopped short of saying they would change the policy, despite strong concerns from county leaders that the policy was dangerous to public health.

"It is just not good policy to have people drinking out of wells," Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "I think it is absolutely wrong from a public health standpoint."

The city provides treated water to Rural Water Districts Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. Contracts between the city and the rural water districts have placed caps on the number of water meters the districts can add each year. The city has insisted on the caps in an effort to slow urban sprawl in unincorporated parts of the county.

But the city and the county within the last year have approved new joint subdivision regulations that create more stringent rules on when and where new residential construction can take place in rural areas. County commissioners are urging city commissioners to remove the meter restrictions because they think the new development regulations have greatly decreased the chances of suburban sprawl in the county.

City commissioners, though, said they needed more time to tackle the issue, especially because two new members have joined the commission since the April elections.

"Right now it wouldn't be right for us to say that we should go this direction or that direction," Mayor Sue Hack said. "It is a complicated issue, and we need some time to consider it."

County commissioners asked the city to put the issue high on its priority list. Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson said the County Commission thought the city had given its assurance that a change in the meter policy would be strongly considered if the county agreed to strengthen the rural development regulations.

"Frankly, from the county's standpoint, we think we have done our part," Johnson said.

Jones said there were about 175 people who are on waiting lists for meters. He said he's concerned many of those people currently are using well water. Jones, who is a former director of environment for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said wells are susceptible to contamination, especially during flooding events.

"I know that 175 people is just a drop in the bucket, but for those people, this issue may have some important health consequences," Jones said.

In other matters:

¢ County commissioners asked the city to agree to a policy outlining how personnel changes would be made in three major departments that are jointly funded by the city and the county: the Planning Department, the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Department and the Emergency Communications Department that operates the 911 system.

The agreement would require communication between the mayor and the chairman of the County Commission before the director of any of those three departments is fired or asked to resign. The ultimate authority would continue to rest with the city manager - in the case of the planning and fire/medical department - and with the county administrator in the case of the emergency communications director.

City commissioners said they generally were comfortable with the proposed policy, but City Manager David Corliss said he would like to have a chance to talk further with the City Commission about the policy.

¢ The city and county agreed to begin discussing ways to move the long-stalled Southeast Area Plan forward. The plan is designed to spell out future land uses for an area southeast of 23rd Street and O'Connell Road. Commissioners agreed to restart discussions on the area within the next 30 days.


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