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Archive for Thursday, August 14, 2008

Transit sales tax questions tied up with T’s future

Lawrence Transit System driver Sam Schlageck, left, lets passengers off his bus Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 during a stop in south Lawrence.

Lawrence Transit System driver Sam Schlageck, left, lets passengers off his bus Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 during a stop in south Lawrence.

August 14, 2008

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Transit sales tax questions tied up with T's future

Let the campaign begin. City Commissioners have just 84 days to convince voters to support two sales tax measures in Lawrence. The measures are designed to save the city's bus system from closing next year. Enlarge video

We're now officially on T-watch.

For the next 83 days - some would say like sands through an hourglass - a drama will unfold to determine whether the city's fixed-route transit system lives or dies.

City commissioners Tuesday night officially raised the curtain by placing two transit sales tax questions on the Nov. 4 ballot - a 0.2 of 1 percent tax that would provide operating dollars for the system, and a 0.05 of 1 percent tax that would provide the city additional money to replace the bus system's aging fleet.

Here are some story lines to watch for.

Merger movement

Mayor Mike Dever - who first proposed using a sales tax to save the transit system from a 2009 operating deficit estimated at $1 million - has long said he thinks the success of the sales tax initiatives will hinge on whether voters believe the city and university can successfully merge their buses into one better system.

The university and the city in July signed a letter of intent saying they want a merger by July 2009. But the letter is contingent on the city finding funding.

The big question now is whether the city and university have enough time before the election to develop - and present to voters - firm details on how a merged system would work.

Dever said it may be unrealistic to expect a route map and bus schedule for a new system to be completed by the November election.

"But I know we owe it to the voters to present them with what the vision for a merged system would be," Dever said.

That means voters should expect general descriptions of where new routes would be and an explanation of how much more frequently buses would run in a merged system.

Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit, was reluctant to make commitments about how much information could be developed before the elections.

"There are probably a lot more questions than answers right now," Kaiser said "But I agree that it would be very helpful to let the voters know what type of system they may be getting."

Kaiser, though, said neither the university nor the city has taken the first major step in developing the details of a new system. The July letter of intent called for the city and KU to each appoint a team of representatives to begin discussions on what a new system would include. Neither side has appointed a team.

"My personal preference is it would have been nice to have been meeting by now," Kaiser said. "But we're not out of time. We still have time to talk."

Funding worries

Over the last week, concerns - fueled by a city staff analysis - have increased that the proposed 0.2 percent sales tax would not generate enough money to cover all expenses of the T. That led Dever to propose the 0.05 percent sales tax that would be in addition to the 0.2 percent.

But the way the ballot issue is set up, the 0.2 percent tax could pass and the 0.05 percent tax could fail. That would leave KU leaders with a major question: Is the city bringing its fair share of funding to a merged system?

Kaiser said the university hadn't yet done that analysis. But he said he had been following concerns that the 0.2 percent sales tax does not give the city enough money to replace its aging fleet of buses.

Whether the lack of a bus replacement plan would be enough to kill a merger between KU and the city isn't yet known.

"It would be a talking point," Kaiser said.

Backup plans

As early as this month, City Manager David Corliss is expected to talk with private transit providers about how the city could run a small-scale paratransit service if the sales tax questions fail in November.

The city has about $600,000 in a transit reserve fund that it could use for one year to pay for a paratransit service for the elderly and disabled. But how much service is a key question.

Corliss already has described any such system as "bare bones," and has said he's not sure $600,000 would be enough to provide any service.

Dever, though, did not rule out the possibility of finding additional money for paratransit service, even if the sales tax vote fails. Dever said he thinks the sales tax questions are referendums on whether the public supports the T, not the city's existing paratransit service for the elderly and disabled.

Ballot overload

The two transit sales tax questions are in addition to a third ballot question that would provide a 0.3 of 1 percent sales tax for streets, sidewalk construction, fire trucks, stormwater projects and an east Lawrence trail project.

Dever has said he's confident voters won't become confused over the bevy of ballot questions. But that is not a unanimous opinion. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Boog Highberger both opposed putting multiple questions on the November ballot. They instead wanted a single sales tax on the ballot that would provide funding for all the various issues.

Amyx and Highberger, though, said they would urge voters to approve the three sales tax questions.

Comments

Bob Forer 6 years, 1 month ago

"Kaiser, though, said neither the university nor the city has taken the first major step in developing the details of a new system. The July letter of intent called for the city and KU to each appoint a team of representatives to begin discussions on what a new system would include. Neither side has appointed a team."**********Nonsense. IN 2006 the City of Lawrence commissioned a "Coordinated Public Transportatoin Development Plan." That plan, nearly three hundred pages in legnth, may be found at: http://www.lawrencetransit.org/news/docs/FinalReport.pdf Are Dever and Kaiser even aware of this report?

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BigPrune 6 years, 1 month ago

If you consider history, Lawrence functioned fine without the T Bus. If you consider history, Lawrence had a trolley system that failed. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -Carlos Santana :)

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bastet 6 years, 1 month ago

Figure out how to make it work. If the T as it stands is too ambitious, then rescale, retool. Take Agressive Action on the merger with KU. Stop fiddling around and figure it out.Don't toss the baby out with the bathwater or let the T just languish away out of inaction. Lawrence DOES need public transportation. It's not a small town anymore, and chucking public transit after five years is ridiculously short-sighted and backward-thinking. Make it work.

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BigPrune 6 years, 1 month ago

The real irony, is the people supporting the re-bricking of Ohio street are also supporters of the mT Bus. Probably the same kind of people who hook their bikes to the front of the bus. Probably the same kind of people who want to save a manmade wetland that puts off more greenhouse methane gasses than the pollution cars would put out that would be driving on a bypass that was approved by the voters years ago.

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LogicMan 6 years, 1 month ago

All things, good or bad, must come to an end. The T's time has come."...is expected to talk with private transit providers about how the city could run a small-scale paratransit service if the sales tax questions fail in November."This is what this small city needs. Also a couple more used car lots w/ repair shops, probably on the east side of town, that specialize in low-cost econo cars.

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blackhawkx 6 years, 1 month ago

"We're now officially on T-watch.For the next 83 days -"The drama! The action! The horror! What will become of us in the next 83 days if this bill doesn't pass?? Will it be the end of the citizens of Lawrence, nay, the entire WORLD if the bill doesn't pass?!

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Steve Jacob 6 years, 1 month ago

So even if the T passes, riders will still be unhappy because you know "merger" always means cuts.

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PapaB 6 years, 1 month ago

Whoever mentioned Iowa City as a good example of public transportation needs to examine a little further. They have a freeway going from Coralville to Iowa City that basically runs right through the middle of everything. The buses can jump on there and go across town easily. I see the same thing in another college town, Norman, OK: They have I-35 going through almost the middle of town. The layout of our town is horrible for public transportation because it takes so long, and even though it wouldn't go through the middle of town, not having the SLT completed hurts the efficiency of the bus system. Here's a solution: One stop in each neighborhood and more stops on main thoroughfares. If you want to ride, walk to the stop in your neighborhood. Less routes and less big busses. Sell month or year passes for a slight discount, increasing ridership and potential revenues. Finish the SLT, decreasing through-city traffic and allowing the T to get across town more easily.Sorry if my answer sounds too simple, but it took me 2 minutes to come up with. Think of what the city should come up with since they have people that are supposed to figure this out.

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packs_of_wild_dogzz 6 years, 1 month ago

How did they get around before the T?

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88jayhawks 6 years, 1 month ago

Packs,I'm guessing you probably have car so "getting around" isn't an issue for you. As for myself I am handicap, and before the "T" I didn't have any other way to go anywhere except to depend others or I didn't go at all. All these people who are against the "T" might feel different about if that was their only means of transportation.

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Chris Ogle 6 years, 1 month ago

We should thank our City Commissioners for putting the T to a vote..... Now we can stop whining and VOTE!!!

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ilkeeze 6 years, 1 month ago

Tim vonHolten, thank you. : )

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Tim vonHolten 6 years, 1 month ago

we need to stop thinking of dissolving the T as even an option. it shouldn't even be on the table for discussion. it's broken, so fix it. we seem to have plenty of money to "fix" the corner of 7th and mass twice a year, so i think someone could find the money to come up with a viable plan to keep us at least in the mid-twentieth century. we need to think about moving forward, but as long as we have people greenlighting ridiculous projects like the re-bricking of ohio street, we're going to keep looking backward, and looking foolish.

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Bud Stagg 6 years, 1 month ago

The T is a "want" of some and a "need" of very few. It is simply a luxury that is not viable for this city yet. IF you want the T then you better attract more jobs to this town to pay for it. The liberals need to give something to get the T. So far I see them blocking every attempt at attracting business or growth. That means a "NO" vote from me.I, for one, will not pay the tax for very long if it passes. I will be moving my company, it's jobs, and my home out of town. The city will have about $20,000 less in taxes to make due with.

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goodcitizen 6 years, 1 month ago

Exactly,If it is just "too complicated" to figure out a merger plan, then I think it's time we found some city employees who did not find it "too complicated" and were up to the job. Sounds like a good final exam project for an urban planning major (or entire class of them) at KU.

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lawrencian 6 years, 1 month ago

hawk, your T pass or transfer slip from the T buses will be valid on KU buses, too! Otherwise, both systems cost $1 per ride.

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dweezil222 6 years, 1 month ago

Anonymous userLogicMan (Anonymous) says:All things, good or bad, must come to an end. The T's time has come.":is expected to talk with private transit providers about how the city could run a small-scale paratransit service if the sales tax questions fail in November."This is what this small city needs. Also a couple more used car lots w/ repair shops, probably on the east side of town, that specialize in low-cost econo cars.====================================I have to tell you, though, I live in a city roughly the size of Lawrence (maybe even a bit smaller) where the bus system is thriving. Maybe it just needs a good overhaul. Another thing that helps is that college students ride for free with their ID, after an arrangement was made with the student government of the college here. Does the T have some kind of arrangement with KU? Seems like something along those lines could be mutually beneficial.

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SettingTheRecordStraight 6 years, 1 month ago

The T makes me want to puke. Every time I see one of those empty behemoths rumble by, I throw up in my mouth a little bit.

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texburgh 6 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like northtown would prefer to live in Topeka. Of course, Topeka has a mass transit system.Movies downtown? Great idea and paid for by downtown merchants. I love them and appreciate the merchants for sponsoring them.The arts? We've got to have them - believe it or not, northtown, community amenities (parks, recreation, the arts, etc.) are part of economic development. Companies don't locate in places their management staff don't want to live. Aside from that, the arts feed our minds and souls; we need them. Your anti-arts reaction by the way is just what an artist appreciates. Love the work or hate it but don't be dispassionate!The homeless? I guess you would rather they camped in your backyard than had drop in shelters and services? As Jesus once said, "That which you do for the least among you, you do also for me." But I guess you don't get that whole "do unto others" thing. Unless of course the "others" once paid taxes.

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IrishCat 6 years, 1 month ago

From my comment on last week's story.....I feel like it bears repeating here on this story as well for those that did not see it earlier....."I've been sitting here reading your comments, and have covered about 20 of them so far:in all of those comments I've only seen about two of them show a positive thought toward this bus issue. My question to those of you that want to vote no, or want the "T" to be killed as one put it:do any of you nay sayers even ride the bus? Have you ever ridden the bus? I'm speaking on behalf of my son that is a fine young man with high-functioning autism. Part of his curriculum in a two-year program after graduating from high school that taught him how to budget, how to cook, and live independently was to learn the bus system so that he could become a productive, wage-earning, independent young man, and that is what he has become. He takes himself to and from work each day without having to depend on his mom or his sister to take him to and from his two part time jobs at various hours of the day. It is crucial to his long-term independence to be able to do this. Do any of you have relatives that cannot or do not drive because of their disabilities? what if you had a disability that prevented you from being able to drive? wouldn't you like to have the option of getting on a bus to take yourself to the doctor? to get your prescriptions, etc? I also read a comment on increasing the cost of the bus. Most of the people that ride the bus don't have the money that the rest of you non-riders have. They are on fixed incomes or disability, and some just have such a low income level that they cannot afford cars. If you take $3.00 each way, $6 for the day, times approximately 20 work days each month, that's $120.00 a month taken away from their food and their rental costs. They simply do not have that kind of money. So before you go spouting off about no more taxes, and the unneccessary need for the "T", take a day off from your high paying job and ride the bus. See what kind of people depend on it daily:maybe you'll see things for how they really are."...My point in repeating this comment is to let the rest of you know that there is an entire section of the population that depends on the bus daily. They are not low-life, non-wage earning, scourges of society as some of you seem to think, they are simply people that cannot or do not drive for one reason or another and need to live their lives as un-complicated as the rest of us do that have our own transportation. What if some power-monger came along and said to you personally, we know you like to drive your BMW to work, but alas, we're not going to let you do it anymore, we're taking it away. How could they take it away from you when you are paying for it? How could they take the city bus away from my son? He pays for it every time he rides it, and he also pays taxes on his earned wages? What's the difference?

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Trobs 6 years, 1 month ago

Perfect solution. Stop needing to go anywhere! Then, people who rely on the T no longer have a reason to use it!

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tir 6 years, 1 month ago

I would be much more likely to support a sales tax increase for the T if I knew that serious improvements would be made to the routes and schedules. People need to know what their sales tax increases will be paying for in order to decide if it is worth supporting. Also, KU and the City need to figure out exactly how a merged bus system will work before the November election. Voters should at least be able to look at a rough draft of the changes and a proposed timeline for implementing them. They've still got a couple of months. What are they waiting for? Set up a meeting and hammer something out already.

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88jayhawks 6 years, 1 month ago

Yes, I agree the "T" does have it's flaws, but I was just wondering what all anti - "T" people suggest to those that it is their only mode of tranportation?

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sjschlag 6 years, 1 month ago

"If it is just "too complicated" to figure out a merger plan, then I think it's time we found some city employees who did not find it "too complicated" and were up to the job. Sounds like a good final exam project for an urban planning major (or entire class of them) at KU." I plan on taking this on as my thesis project! would like to have a "route map and schedules" by november 2008 to show people, then have public comment on it to have it tweaked by december. Going on a field visit to Ames, IA to see how it's done here in the coming weeks.

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Solutions101 6 years, 1 month ago

The tax-payer's responsibility should have a limit to the public services provided. For example, providing free transportation to overweight "disabled" people to Pizza Hut's door while they enjoy luxuries (transportation and restaurants) on our tax dollars that we ourselves choose not to spend our money that foolishly because we work for it!As for medical trips and such, there are many taxi services that would better suit the needs to an elderly person due to health concerns (heat, cold, means of traveling/waiting at bus station).As with the T, it needs to go. It will eventually be shut down, and the tax will stay, as with all other taxes. For example, income tax began in 1861 during the Civil War to help fund the war. The war ended, but despite, the tax stayed and more followed. Personal income tax should definitely be viewed as the draft: Used only in an extreme time of need, i.e. World War III.With the T being shut down, the City of Lawrence can & will merge with KU without an increase in tax. Come on, now they are proposing two different taxes because they realize the tax cannot support the T. They are not even rationalizing. Give me a break!Please Vote NO!

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IrishCat 6 years, 1 month ago

Just a note to Wild Dogzz...I chose exactly that...not to just sit and complain about it...my children and I waited for five hours down at the City Hall meeting the other night just for an opportunity to speak in favor of maintaining the bus system...the meeting room was FULL of people wanting to show their support for the bus, it was full until 8:00 p.m. that is...because that is when the bus system closed for the night and those people that depend on the bus for transportion had to have a way to get home...

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

" It's hilarious that you use the "what about the poor people" argument when advocating for a regressive sales tax."That's a really cheap shot, Glock. The City Commission are the ones who have decided that the "T" only survives by being financed through a sales tax-- a classic Hobson's choice. But the only alternative was to continue to finance it through the property tax, which is also a regressive tax. The class warfare has been conducted within the state legislature, who have chosen to give local governments no option of using the fairest tax available-- a progressive income tax.

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lawrencian 6 years, 1 month ago

Solutions 101 says... "With the T being shut down, the City of Lawrence can & will merge with KU without an increase in tax." Do you really think that students will fund the city-wide bus system if the city isn't willing to put up its' fair share? Not likely!

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lawrencian 6 years, 1 month ago

hawk, ku's system isn't any bigger than it was before, it just has pretty blue buses that are more noticeable to you now...

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packs_of_wild_dogzz 6 years, 1 month ago

sjschlag,Nice. Everyone take notice. Someone willing to try to solve the problem rather than sit and complain about it. Since yours was a positive post, it will likely be completely ignored. I say good luck.

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bearded_gnome 6 years, 1 month ago

don't know if anybody has discussed the para issue. haven't had time to read previous comments. hope I can.anyway, the discussion of continuing at least a minimal para service for elderly/disabled is nice and noble, but the way the para is operated now, it is still quite expensive per ride, and wasteful. most para rides don't require the big, heavy-duty, lift-equipped low-gas-milage buses. most para rides could be provided with a fuel-efficient four-door car. if federal law prevents paras from deploying these, then seek a waiver! furthermore, that blind guy who spoke to the commission said that the para doesn't completely meet the needs of blind people if they are active.

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Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

Better keep an eye on that infrastructure sales tax proposal.That will likely include some projects that will increase your taxes again. It's called local corporate welfare.

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