Big buses and a slightly bigger sales tax likely will be needed to keep the city's public transit system operating in the future, city commissioners said Tuesday.
A majority of commissioners at their weekly meeting expressed general agreement for a 0.20 percent transit sales tax. That's up from a previous proposal by Commissioner Rob Chestnut that called for putting a 0.15 percent sales tax on a November ballot for voters to decide.
Commissioners, though, indicated they were willing to consider the slightly higher sales tax rate, in part, because Kansas University has shown considerable interest in merging its transit system with the city's bus service.
"The merger of these two systems will be the real key to all of this," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. "Creating one system that the public has confidence in could make all the difference in the world for this issue."
But commissioners stopped short of signing a formal letter of intent that proposed a merger of the KU and city bus systems by July 1, 2009, if several conditions could be met. Commissioners also did not take any action to place the sales tax issue on the November ballot.
Instead, commissioners said the city needed to have more discussion with KU leaders to determine what a merged system would look like. Commissioners agreed that voters would have to be presented with specifics if a sales tax had much chance for approval.
Commissioners also directed staff members to begin putting together a budget scenario that would envision a public sales tax failing to win voter approval. Mayor Mike Dever said he believed the majority of the commission would want to continue with at least some sort of paratransit service that would provide transportation to the disabled and elderly. But it would be unlikely any sort of city fixed-route bus system would be provided.
Staff members also were directed to start creating a list of possible projects that a separate infrastructure sales tax could fund. Commissioners are still expressing interest in placing two separate sales tax questions on the November ballot: the 0.20 percent transit proposal and a 0.30 infrastructure sales tax. The infrastructure sales tax originally was proposed to be a 0.35 percent sales tax, but commissioners on Tuesday reduced it after tentatively raising the proposed transit tax.
The transit tax is anticipated to generate about $1.5 million initially for the bus system. The infrastructure tax would generate slightly more than that.
In other transit news, commissioners seemingly ended the debate over whether the city should switch to smaller buses in the future.
Commissioners unanimously gave staff members the authority to submit paperwork to the Federal Transit Administration that would get the ball rolling on a federal grant for two new 30-foot, heavy-duty buses.
Staff members had been studying the feasibility of purchasing smaller 25-foot buses that operated with gasoline engines instead of diesel engines. But staff members recommended against the switch because the smaller buses likely would need to be replaced every two years.
The $320,000 heavy-duty transit buses could last 10 to 12 years, transit administrator Cliff Galante told commissioners. The smaller buses - which would be the same size as the city's paratransit buses - would get better fuel mileage. The 12 passenger buses get about 7.5 miles per gallon compared with 5 miles per gallon for the larger buses.
No demolition permit yet for Louisiana St. home
City commissioners did not grant a demolition permit for an early 1900s home at 1232 La.
But they may in the near future. Commissioners said they weren't yet convinced that there are no other feasible or prudent alternatives to demolishing the structure.
Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Sue Hack have toured the property within the last year and said it is in extremely bad shape. Commissioners directed members of the city's codes enforcement division to inspect the property again and bring back a more detailed report of its condition.
Members of the Oread Neighborhood Association and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance expressed opposition to the demolition request. Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said he's concerned that the development group that owns the property has not stated any specific plans for the property.
Price Banks, an attorney for 1240 Louisiana Street Associates LLC, said his client hadn't had time to develop a plan for the property, which was purchased from the KU Endowment Association last summer.