Archive for Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New mayor urges fiscal restraint

Commissioner, set to take helm tonight, says economy makes cuts likely

April 1, 2008


Lawrence will get a new mayor tonight, and he comes equipped with a bright red warning flag.

If City Commission tradition holds - and all indications are that it will - Mike Dever will be elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as Lawrence mayor.

Among the first orders of business is to convince residents that the community is facing economic times that are as tough as any in recent memory.

"I think we need to understand that we're in a perfect storm from an economic standpoint," said Dever, who is in line to become mayor because he had the highest vote total in the last City Commission election.

From Dever's perspective - the owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm - that means cuts to social service programs, including the city's public transit system, may be in order. If not, pressure to increase city taxes will grow considerably, he said.

Trio of troubles

Dever said it is obvious the city is facing financial pressures from a struggling national economy and a slowdown in the local real estate market that has led to stagnant property values for the first time in decades.

But Dever said he's also concerned about a third problem. He said he thinks the community may be undergoing a fundamental change as fuel prices rise and it becomes more difficult for people to justify living in Lawrence while commuting to Kansas City or Topeka.

"The value of our geographic location has diminished because of rising gas prices," Dever said. "I think when you look at all three of those factors, it should point to some sense of urgency on our part."

Transit talk

The economy may force dramatic cuts to the T, the city's bus service. Dever said he supports the T, and believes it could become a more integral part of Lawrence's future. But he also said he wants the community to make it clear that it supports the service.

"I want the public to sign off on any additional subsidy that we provide for the T," Dever said.

That could mean a sales tax vote. Dever previously has not been a strong supporter of plans by previous Mayor Mike Amyx and current Mayor Sue Hack to create a sales tax for streets and economic development. Dever said he's still not crazy about creating a new sales tax, but said if the commission does move forward on the idea it ought to include public transit on the list of items that a sales tax would fund.

"I just think the public deserves to have a voice on this issue," Dever said. "It is going to be a very expensive program to continue."

Dever said a new sales tax would not be his first choice. Instead he would rather look for ways to redistribute current city tax dollars to areas of the city budget that are in need.

Dever, though, conceded that it would be difficult to fund both public transportation and increase the amount of money for street maintenance, which he said needs to be a priority.

"The condition of our infrastructure really is the front porch we present to potential businesses and visitors who are thinking about locating here," Dever said.

Open dialogue

Having more success attracting businesses and residents to the community is a key to reversing the city's economic fortunes, Dever said.

"I'm the type of guy who is going to ask the community to see the need for economic development of all kinds, whether it is retail, industrial or something more speculative," Dever said. "We may not be in a position where we can be as selective as we used to be."

Dever said making the community more business-friendly by streamlining processes and improving customer service inside City Hall is a priority. But he also said he wants to work on ways to reduce the amount of controversy projects face when they come to City Hall.

He said he wants to facilitate meetings among developers, neighbors and other groups to talk about developments well in advance of a project being heard by the City Commission.

"When you get both sides together on an issue, you normally find you're not as far apart as you think," Dever said. "It is really important as city leaders that we look for potential conflicts and points of confusion and try to address them early.

"I'm convinced that we have to be much more nimble in the future. We're in an economic standstill here. We can't afford to have projects come along and watch them fall apart at the 11th hour."


somebodynew 9 years, 8 months ago

Fiscal Restraint = how about NOT giving every developer big tax breaks and fronting city money for projects. Can't we just take a minute and get our city in order before committing to things like Farmland, the North Lawrence developement, and Schwada's project all of which will do nothing but cost the city money for some years. Particularly where there are private investors willing to buy Farmland.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 8 months ago

How does Mike Dever address the issue of over built in residential,retail and office space and warehouse space?

There is a 626,000 sq. ft warehouse in East Hills built in 2002 sitting empty now for five years. There was never a tenant for the space. Who paid for it is a mystery? Taxpayers maybe? It is supposedly paying $62,000 or so in property taxes annually. Who is paying those taxes is a mystery? Taxpayers maybe? ============================================= How does the Chamber of Commerce justify a $1.1 million remodel on the old Carnegie Library? The Art Center made it work for many many years as is. ============================================= Commissioner Dever may want to consider impact fees and/or excise taxes for new development. Instead of the 9% annual user fee increase on water and sewer to finance new growth. Why should existing users pay for two sewage treatment plants? ============================================= Perhaps Commissioner Dever might be able to explain why new taxes are necessary to cover the rehab expense of older infrastructure that has been paying into the maintenance cookie jar for several decades. Where did that money go? ============================================= If the city would not spend $46 million on the North Lawrence project for: $477,000 bridge @ E 1600 Rd $326,000 culvert @ 24/40 $16.2 million in reconstruction projects $24.8 million in flood control *$4 million new water and sewer lines

Where is the economic impact study on this project? Where is the environmental impact study on this flood plain project? Traffic Impact Study? Retail Impact Study Residential Impact Study? Where is the justification for this project? Local Commercial real estate people? ============================================== *$46 million could finance the T for approximately 9 years. If a merger takes place KU students can subsidize the Jayhawk T to some degree. Or the city could own the T and cut out the middle man? ==============================================

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 8 months ago

The best gift you can pass on in life is to provide the next generation with the best possible education.

In Lawrence we have something to be very proud of with our kids schools. I have 3 kids in these schools and I know how dedicated and hard working our teachers are.

Please support them for all they do for us.

For a home value of $200,000 a year its only another $ 13.80 added to your annual bill. That is about $ 1.15 a month.

If we cannot support this small request, the schools will have to cut some services. My kids have never needed the at risk support that WRAP provides. But some kids are not as fortunate and they need us.

We adults talk and argue all the time about a lot of things. What sometimes gets lost in all the rhetoric is that our kids need us.

Please help our schools give these kids the love and support they need.

That is what this is about.

Please vote yes.

igby 9 years, 8 months ago

Fix the potholes, they I'll be happy.

If you can't handle a small job like fixing potholes; surely, you can't handle the bigger jobs.

LogicMan 9 years, 8 months ago

"New mayor urges fiscal restraint"

And we all need to start doing so today -- please get out and vote NO on the economy-deflating tax increase TODAY. Polls are open 7 to 7; vote early!

igby 9 years, 8 months ago


April Fools!

I thought I would be the first one to say this!

We need these potholes as a reminder that your in Lawrence, where 36% of all our net worth goes to the government in taxes that support all these social programs, public jobs, high wages for government workers, private interest hotels and studies because no one we elect is qualified to wipe a birds butt.

April Fools!

How fitting!

Vote No!

doc1 9 years, 8 months ago

Jayhawk wrote:"In Lawrence we have something to be very proud of with our kids schools. I have 3 kids in these schools and I know how dedicated and hard working our teachers are."And they have the priviledge of having a trailer park on almost every school grounds because there isn't enough room. This school district makes me sick. Small 2,3 & 4A schools have nicer facilities than in Lawrence. These schools can't even get their own football facility. What a shame and an embarassment.

aginglady 9 years, 8 months ago

I voted No.If you like your child's teacher, send them some money, that way you at least know that they GOT the money.My child's previous teacher lives in a cheaper county, her family doesn't even pay taxes here to support her own job. Why should I pay for her raise, if she doesn't contribute in the same manner as we do?

Bill Chapman 9 years, 8 months ago

The streets are falling apart because they were NOT designed to handle the traffic load that runs over them every day. Many of the asphalt roads do not have a concrete base, and the many of the ones that do are not thick enough to support the traffic load. Add in the factors of poor drainage, weather, a "fix it with a patch" mentality and you get Lawrence's city streets. As for the schools, it is amazing the number of people who "know" how to fix the problem(s) in the school district. There are just about as many plans to fix the problems as there people who "know" how to fix them. Could it be that no matter what anyone does, there will ALWAYS be >something< wrong with the school district? For the city council - "Fiscal restraint" means spending less money and spending it MORE efficiently. This means: quit giving tax breaks to businesses, stop thinking about buying the Farmland plant and turning it into a business park, find ways to use what resources the city currently has to make money, and start looking into cutting city administrative costs.

BrianR 9 years, 8 months ago

Mint chocolate chip ice cream for everyone.

BigPrune 9 years, 8 months ago

I voted NO. Sorry teachers, I know you have to teach our children 141 days out of the year, plus 39 half days , but it was a field YOU decided to go into. I wish I could get federal holidays off and got three months off during the summer, and got benefits. I haven't had a vacation in 7 years and I work 360 days a year and my taxes keep going up. Lobby the administration to cut their staff/wages so you can get a raise. Boo hoo.

Drew_Carey 9 years, 8 months ago

Brian, make that a Mint Julep and I'm all set.Or should that have been a Klondike Bar?Off to vote now.

Bill Chapman 9 years, 8 months ago

"Fiscal restraint" also means not spending money if there is not a good, timely return on the investment. This means NO to spending $1,100,000 (that's $1.1 million) of city money to "improve" the Carnegie Library at 9th and Vermont just so we can get $98,000 of federal funding! Current plans include a 1,200sq. foot expansion of the north side of the building, bring the facility up ADA compliance, and create large meeting rooms for Parks and Recreation to rent for weddings, receptions, etc. >Read all about it here:

SpeedRacer 9 years, 8 months ago

Yay!! Fiscal restraint!!! The school board needs to do that, too. I voted No!! By the way, my kid came home yesterday some water saving stuff which his teacher expects us to install or he won't get a grade. Not going to happen; we do our part to conserve water and I am not going to have some pathetic teacher trying to push the hippy agenda on my family. I guess this is what comes from having an environmentalist on the school board. Mitchell seems to be putting his 2 cents in everywhere; he did the powerpoint presentation for the city councel about the old Farmland plant.

OnlyTheOne 9 years, 8 months ago

"I'm the type of guy who is going to ask the community to see the need for economic development of all kinds, whether it is retail, industrial or something more speculative," Dever said. "We may not be in a position where we can be as selective as we used to be."Twenty years too late! Bumbling leaders of Lawrence have let far too many good jobs go elsewhere because they "weren't good enough for Lawrence."You don't think that now do you?

Marty_McFly 9 years, 8 months ago

Didn't I read these same comments from Cool yesterday?

Mkh 9 years, 8 months ago

Dever is pushing for fiscal restraint? I almost forgot is was April Fool's day until I read that headline.Mayor Dever, please start your fiscal restraint by immediately ending all tax subsidies to your rich developer buddies!!!!

unite2revolt 9 years, 8 months ago

Well I do think Devers is onto something with the idea that gas prices reduce the attractiveness of living in Lawrece to people that want to work in Topeka or the KC area. I dont understand why he thinks that cutting social services and bus routes will help make this a more attractive town to live in. Seems like what would make it more attactive is more jobs in Lawrence, not less.

estespark 9 years, 8 months ago

Ames, IA and other similar communities have integrated the City bus system with the campus eliminate redundancy of services and to offset local costs. Might not be a bad idea for the T to saddle up with KU on Wheels...especially since KUoW is the most successful transit service in 3 states. Would definitely help offset the City's subsidy of the T. Of course, they'll have to buy newer buses and be ADA compliant. There are Federal programs to offset the expense as well. Fiscal restraint is one thing...being fiscally responsible through innovative financing is something else.

Ralph Reed 9 years, 8 months ago

plumberscrack (Anonymous) writes at 0859: "We need to be able to vote in Mayor (4 yr position) and vote commissioners (2 yr position) who represent different parts of town. This way we have a commissioner worrying only about his/her portion of town and the town as a whole gets representation. The city manager answers directly to the Mayor ..."***Oddly enough Vito, I agree with you here. Frightening, isn't it?The only change I would make is that the city manager answers to the commission, not just the mayor.****I'm me. Who are you behind your hood of anonymity?

jonas 9 years, 8 months ago

Fiscal restraint is an unnecessary burden on a government. Just look at our federal government, they've been operating under a deficit for years, and there hasn't been any problems come out of that that I've ever noticed.

justthefacts 9 years, 8 months ago

"........some water saving stuff which his teacher expects us to install or he won't get a grade."This needs to be brought to the attention of a good civil rights lawyer. Or the school board. Or someone with an ounce of sense.If a teacher can require a home to become "greener" just to satifisfy their own personal agenda, what is to keep the same teacher (or an equally committed teacher) from insisting that a student force parents to adopt other life-style changes, to get good grades? Teaching is one thing. Gestapo tactics is another.In a capitalistic society - which so far we have last time I checked; in theory any way - we pay money to get things we want. The price is set (when the market is free to swing according to demand) by negotiation between a buyer and seller. I would be very willing to pay more for good teachers. I would personally pay a really good teacher more salary, out of my own pocket. And I don't have kids in the system (any longer). I would pay to get kids - our future - taught well. I think good teachers should be paid as much (or more) then good plumbers. The work they do is just (or more) as important! But I don't want to continue paying for high-priced administrators who are in love with their own red tape. I can't see why I should pay a thin dime to teachers like the one described above who see teaching as a way to indocrinate their pupils. And why should I skip a few meals in order to pay for classes that barely teach the subject in order to make sure the least common denominator passes, so that all children get to feel like special little snowflakes....Stop going into debt. I can't wait to vote no to any more tax hikes. A real life Depression - not recession - is on its way (or is already here) and we're talking about hiking taxes up even higher? Good grief. Have people in government lost their collective minds? If you want something new/different, pay for it yourselves! And I will do the same.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 8 months ago

Tell the commissioners to stop creating neighborhoods in an effort to curb the rising cost of living in Lawrence,Kansas. Some commissioners must be big profiteers cuz they just keep on building.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 9 years, 8 months ago

Why bother changing the city government? We now elect "commmissioners", who glibly rotate this mythical "mayor" lable to amuse themselves. The elected comissioners do nothing but rubber stamp the non-elected and non-accountable city staff and their cadre of "experts". They are useless and there is no reason to believe electing a real "mayor" would be any different. What we really need is a total housecleaning down by the river, but that ain't gonna happen, too many entrenched employees waiting for their retirement to bother with anything that might be beneficial for the city. Sorry, folks, but I know just how useless the 5 commissioners are, and you should find out, too.

lounger 9 years, 8 months ago

Doc1 says"These schools can't even get their own football facility. What a shame and an embarassment." Hey Doc football is not A number one priority in every school. Im so glad that funding is put more into the classroom than this Cult we call sports.

xtronics 9 years, 8 months ago

The real question is with the citizens doing belt tightening will the city join us - or raise taxes? The economy will be off for a while; will the lower sales tax revenues be made up with less spending or will they raise rates? Property valuations will be down; will the city join us in our personal spending reduction or will they raise property taxes?

LloydDobbler 9 years, 8 months ago

Here are a few points about Farmland:1) The bidding process for the Farmland property doesn't involve cash on the is evaluated based on how much of the bankruptcy trust funds the bidder is requesting to clean up the property. The outstanding environmental issues are worth more than the value of the property.2) The "winner" at this point in the Farmland situation is the bankruptcy trust administrator, a New York based bank, who is burning through the money and will walk away once the money is gone. This scenario leaves the property to the state with several million dollars of cleanup left to do.3) The city/county needs to support (and by support I don't mean fiscally) and push for the bankruptcy court to force the trust adminstrator to designate a stalkinghorse bidder so that the property can be "purchased" by a private developer who knows how to make this property commercially viable.4) And finally, it's interesting that Mr. Dever talked about the effect of high gas prices on Lawrence's status as a bedroom community. Had the city/county supported private development, namely the IRG proposal, on the Farmland property, it would have been one small step towards making Lawrence more than just a bedroom community. We need jobs so that people don't have to drive to Topeka and Kansas City. It seems pretty elementary, but somehow it slipped passed our leadership.

aginglady 9 years, 8 months ago

Dever and Amyx voted against the Carnegie rebuild. Hurray!I appreciate their not thinking, "We will loose this federal money, so let's spend money we can't afford anyway, who will it harm?".They seem to be setting a new more conservative spending stand on the commission. Now, can we get the money happy people OUT of there?

KLATTU 9 years, 8 months ago

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