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Archive for Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bus system’s fate may rest on sales tax

Lawrence resident Helen Logan, 78, heads home Monday on the Number One T bus to the Prairie Park neighborhood.  Lawrence residents could decide the fate of the bus system with a November sales tax election.

Lawrence resident Helen Logan, 78, heads home Monday on the Number One T bus to the Prairie Park neighborhood. Lawrence residents could decide the fate of the bus system with a November sales tax election.

May 6, 2008

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Future of T may depend on vote

With soaring gas prices, the T needs an additional one million dollars to operate next year. Enlarge video

A new plan has emerged to have two city sales tax elections in November, with one perhaps determining whether the city's financially struggling bus system survives.

Commissioner Rob Chestnut is proposing a 0.15-percent sales tax to fund all operations for the T and the city's related paratransit bus service. He's also proposing a separate 0.35-percent sales tax to fund street repairs, improve sidewalks, and to build other infrastructure projects that may be needed to attract jobs to the community.

The public transit vote is shaping up to be a referendum on whether to continue operating the bus system, which is expected to require an additional $1 million in local funding in 2009.

"Because the costs have gone up so dramatically, and it appears they will go up more, I think we absolutely need some sort of barometer on whether the public still supports this," Chestnut said.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss sales tax issues at their 6:35 meeting tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Under Chestnut's plan, the sales tax would be split into two separate votes. In other words, residents could choose to vote for the infrastructure tax but not the transit tax, or vice versa.

The plan has evoked a variety of opinions from Chestnut's fellow commissioners.

Commissioner Sue Hack said she would prefer that the commission spend its time looking for a way to create a transit system that it can afford, or else decide to get out of the transit business. Either way, she thinks the transit system is in trouble.

"My personal opinion is, I don't believe it will survive in its current form," said Hack, who said she could not envision the commission supporting a property tax increase for the T.

Property tax relief

Chestnut's plan would not provide enough money to expand the T's service. Instead, it would simply allow it to maintain existing service levels. The proposal, however, would free up about $1.05 million in property tax funds that are now used for the public transit system.

Chestnut proposes using part of the $1.05 million to reduce the city's property tax rate by about 1 percent - or 0.24 mills. The remainder of the money he would use to provide an extra $125,000 per year in funding for library operations, and increasing the city's bond and interest fund, which has been dipping into long-held reserves to make bond payments.

City Commissioner Boog Highberger - a longtime opponent of sales taxes but a supporter of the transit system - said he would want to tweak Chestnut's proposal before supporting it.

"But I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there may be no other way to preserve our transit service without a voter-approved sales tax," Highberger said.

Highberger, though, said he would want any sales tax proposal to be large enough to expand public transit service rather than simply to keep it operating at current levels. He also said he does not support having two separate sales tax votes. He would want the infrastructure tax and the transit tax combined into one vote.

"I think it has a higher chance of passage if we combine them," Highberger said.

KU merger

Commissioner Mike Amyx also said he wanted one sales tax vote rather than two. He said both issues involve transportation, and thus should be wrapped into one vote. Amyx also said he wants to pursue more talks with Kansas University about a true merger of the city and university bus systems.

"Both bodies need to get together and say, 'Is there a way to do this?' I'm sure there is because other communities have done it," Amyx said of university communities that operate joint bus systems.

Mayor Mike Dever - who in April broached the subject of using a sales tax to pay for the transit system - praised Chestnut's proposal as a good starting point.

He said he wants commissioners to think hard about what would happen if the transit sales tax failed. He said discontinuing transit operations may be the only option, but he said the community may want to continue funding the paratransit service, which provides door-to-door service for the disabled and others who qualify.

"I just want to make sure that we think through any unintended consequences," Dever said.

Comments

BalkansHawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Maybe they could park the buses in a lot at Eagle Bend. They could pay a small rent to Eagle Bend for a usage fee, and Eagle Bend maintenance could provide services for the buses in addition to their golf equipment. Throw some golf back racks on the front of the buses and golfers could commute to and from the course on the bus which would increase the number of riders as well. Combine the two services and cut back on the costs. Sounds insane doesn't it?

dano 6 years, 7 months ago

I'd like to evaluate a less costly dial-a-ride type of solution perhaps working with paratransit. The giant busses on most routes are due for replacement, environmentally questionable, and offer too many empty seats to justify the expense.

doc1 6 years, 7 months ago

NO. This bus system is failing!!!! Throwing more money for bad is a horrible idea. Heck, I would personally be willing to pay that .015 percent sales tax to get rid of the T.

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

Having an election is a waste of time and money. The people have already voted: After all these years of promotion and marketing and money down the drain, still 99% of Lawrence citizens do not use the T. What else do you need to know?Save the next five months' worth of operating costs and shut down all but the paratransit aspect of the T now.

KsTwister 6 years, 7 months ago

Kind of reminds me of a mark-up before the mark-down for a sale. Why don't I believe property taxes will drop.....experience.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

I wonder if they'll have a public vote on the tax increase that will be necessary to build the new sewage treatment plant, which will most certainly not pay for itself or turn a profit.

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

Chestnut has a very disturbing quote, and I'd like to see the JW drill down on this and explain this situation:"The remainder of the money he would use to provide an extra $125,000 per year in funding for library operations, and increasing the city's bond and interest fund, which has been dipping into long-held reserves to make bond payments."The city is not able to make its bond payments from current tax revenue. It must make bond payments from the reserve fund.How long has this been going on? What bonds are involved? Assuming that these were revenue bonds, what projects that were supposed to generate the revenue to pay off these bonds are underperforming?This is a serious situation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

The T costs Lawrence about a nickel a day per resident to operate. Yea, having such an amenity available for everyone who lives here is really such an unthinkably onerous burden.

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

Why do we even have commissioners if they won't make the decisions we elected them to make? Lets just put every single issue up for a popular vote, online. Put the agenda up with a "yes" or "no" after each item, and registered voters can sign on cast their votes.

M. Lindeman 6 years, 7 months ago

I really wish people would stop conparing Europe's fuel prices to ours. There fuel prices would not be any higher than ours, if it weren't for all of the tax's they put on there fuel. That is one reason people ride public transit over there it is because tax's are so high.

Confrontation 6 years, 7 months ago

"Here we go again. Lets throw out examples of elderly who would be ravished by getting rid of the em-T. Why do you refuse to acknowledge that before the em-T there were transportation programs for the elderly and the disabled?"Please, fill me in on the previous transportation programs. How much did they cost? How much taxpayer money went towards grants for these programs? Was the cost only covered for those with Medicaid or Medicare? Was it a program through a small non-profit that could help as many people as the T?

trufoodie 6 years, 7 months ago

You should not ask everyone to fund this when the routes are not available for everyone. We do need to fund the paratransit tho.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"Bozo is soooo good at spending other peoples' money"I know it galls you, but we're all in this together. You can pay now, or you can pay later. If you decide you don't want to pay at all-- well, check how well that option works. A review of fairly recent history, say 1940-1945, will give you a good idea of what that choice entails. - and soooo bad at math. But an underestimate of more than 50% fits right in with the way this EmpT was conceived of, and sold, in the first place."I don't know if your math is better than mine, but even assuming it is, it's 8 cents a day instead of 5 cents. I'd still pay a good percentage more to have a real bus system as a viable alternative to our quickly obsolescing current system of mass transit, whose maintenance requires subsidies many orders of magnitude greater than that of a good bus system.

guesswho 6 years, 7 months ago

Gas prices in Europe are a lot more expensive then here.Why? They have a higher tax to fund public transportation.Our gas prices are not going to go down, they will continue to go up and we need alternative transporation.

Centerville 6 years, 7 months ago

Godot makes an excellent point. We need to know which bond issues aren't performing. Has our situation been reflected in our bond ratings yet?

tir 6 years, 7 months ago

I think Lawrence is going to need public transit more than ever with the cost of gas going up. But I would not support a sales tax increase in order to maintain the T as it exists today, with those big, old gas-guzzling buses running through those long, meandering, inconvenient routes.The T needs to be improved, with smaller vehicles and better schedule and routes. More people would use it if they could get where they were going with less hassle, and there would be less waste of time and fuel.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 years, 7 months ago

still 99% of Lawrence citizens do not use the T. What else do you need to know?Where did this statistic come from? There are a lot of people who think the JOCO transit never has riders, because when they see it they have just dropped off people, or are on their way to picking them up. Guess what, the ridership numbers don't lie. Lots of people ride the T, and lots of people use the JOCo transit. Do either pay for themselves? no Do highways and police pay for themselves? no. Actually maybe we should make the police pay for themselves, then maybe they would pass out more traffic tickets to those people who think speed limits and stop signs are suggestions. Then those who are in love with their cars couldn't afford them anymore, and have to use the T. Win/win situation.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

Present the measure thus way:Public Transportation Yes or NoSidewalk Rehab Yes or NoStreet Rehab Yes or NoThe economic stimulus portion is not clear enough to warrant support from the public. Commissioners have not proven themselves, either now or in the past, to be able to make the right decisions. In other words there is no hard evidence to support what they think is economic growth. The Chamber of Commerce,city and county commissioners and the planning commissioners simply enjoy spending lots of money without knowing if that spending will actually create economic growth. Sprawl in any form jeopardizes economic growth.

igby 6 years, 7 months ago

I got a great idea!All theses T-buses can be made into commuter shuttles that haul people to Kansas City to the real Mall's so they can shop where the sales taxes are less and the choices are better.What a great idea.Shopping shuttles!Run one every hour to all the major Malls in Olathe, KCK, and Oak Park.

igby 6 years, 7 months ago

Still T'd off about the T. Take three of these T- Buses and start running them to KC every hour three times per day and to Westport and the Casino's, three times every night and the T will pay for it's self. There is a balance for fair trade that Lawrence owes it's people. The T, then would surely be monumentally an asset to all who would like to travel to KC and shop and gamble and party.

Bud Stagg 6 years, 7 months ago

Boog wants to expand the bus service? Typical I just got back from a baseball tourney in Gardner. They have a beautiful new soccer, baseball,...sports complex and park.Folks, we have been passed by a city 1/4 our size. Get it together Lawrence. Where does our tax money go? Why can't we attract industry and jobs like Gardner does? We bicker like old women about the librarian, homeless shelters, etc. We are completly missing the problem with our town. We have too few jobs or industry paying taxes or spending money in this town. We cannot grow, build new things, even pave the roads without those things.Our solution, the only viable one, is to raise sales taxes and property taxes, that is 180 degrees in the wrong direction. That is very sad.I will support a sales tax that does one thing... attracts lots of business to Lawrence.

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

Bozo is soooo good at spending other peoples' money - and soooo bad at math. But an underestimate of more than 50% fits right in with the way this EmpT was conceived of, and sold, in the first place.

SpeedRacer 6 years, 7 months ago

Money would be better spent to provide a "call and ride" service for those who need it, and just keep a couple of buses for the KU commuters.

monkeyhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Ok, I admit it -- I am a bus racist, or is it sexist, or maybe an itist? The MT is the worst environmental offender in this city, not to mention the incredible resource drain. But, I believe what irks me the most is the failure of the CC make their own decisions. The prior CC was oh-so-fond of spending every penny they saw, since it was OPM. Now I'm afraid we have elected some people who are scared to death of the big mouth minorities who would never, ever vote for their reelection, let alone be appeased by anything that is even remotely favorable to their "not enough, gimme more" (of everyone else's money) ideology.And to tie infrastructure needs that are already a basic part of the city's job description to it is ludicrous. If we go for it - I guess we will get the government we deserve.Could it be they are caving in to the merrills of the world?http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/apr/16/ask_voters_yes_or_no/Word to the CC:It would behoove you to listen to your base.

d_prowess 6 years, 7 months ago

I don't use the T and if I had to guess, I probably never will. But I would vote to keep funding it because I think there is a value in having community public transportation. I think it looks good to prospective companies evaluating the city and I think it serves a valuable service for some people in the community. I can't back either of those statements up with fact, so don't ask; it is just my perception. Also, I wonder about those people that do actually use the T. What happens to them if it goes away? Do some of them become unemployed, because they don't have other transportation needs? For me, I will vote yes because I believe some of those people truly need the service and their lives are better because of it. I just think it is the right thing to do:

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

" Typical I just got back from a baseball tourney in Gardner. They have a beautiful new soccer, baseball,:sports complex and park.Folks, we have been passed by a city 1/4 our size."Now that's an interesting measure of "success."

guesswho 6 years, 7 months ago

rdragon says: (with typos corrected)I really wish people would stop comparing Europe's fuel prices to ours. Their fuel prices would not be any higher than ours, if it weren't for all of the taxes they put on their fuel. That is one reason people ride public transit over there it is because taxes are so high.***Why not compare? We compare our gas prices to what they were a year ago here. How else would we know they are high? Europeans ride public transit because a) gas prices are high and b) they have public transportion thanks to the high taxes on gas (refinary costs are pretty equal).Our gas prices are going to continue to go up and if we don't have public transportation, well, life will get a lot more miserable

Bud Stagg 6 years, 7 months ago

Bozo,You are exactly the bickering type I am talking about. The issue here is that their city is able to provide a better level of services than ours. I think this is because Gardner has attracted larger companies. One measure of properly governed society is the level of entertainment and services it provides for it's citizens to keep them happy. Parks, roads, garbage, water, etc are all part of this.Example: Our high school football field is the worst facility of any of our opponents that I have seen. Our youth sports facilities are the joke of Eastern Kansas.I don't want to be the best, but I don't want to be the worst either.

jonas 6 years, 7 months ago

Well, I'm glad I got my scooter so I don't have to use the T anymore, but I would still gladly pay a small tax to keep it running, especially if the system is made more efficient.

Chuck Wehner 6 years, 7 months ago

If the system can't support itself without being supplemented it should be eliminated. Why do we need a vote?

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

We should shut down the T for purely environmental reasons: Look at the absolutely huge carbon footprint it leaves for the few riders that use it. It is huge! We should, at a minimum, slap on a $5 per ride carbon surcharge, to make up for all the time the EmpT's trundle around without a single passenger.

Confrontation 6 years, 7 months ago

The only ones who think the T is a drain on the city are those who would never need it or consider using it. I know several older adults who use it to get everywhere they need to go. Their useless children, who also live in Lawrence, have left them to fend for themselves. The T lets these older adults continue to have the freedom to shop for themselves or remain active in the community. I'd rather see crap like the massive art budget and the golf course face funding cuts.

Godot 6 years, 7 months ago

Let the city give away bicycles to those whose only option for getting to work is to walk or ride theT to work. If they are unable to ride bikes they will qualify for paratransit.Problem solved, and in such a lovely green, and fit-conscious, manner.

gccs14r 6 years, 7 months ago

I'd rather put corporate giveaways such as the Oread Inn parking garage up for a vote.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"Also, I wonder about those people that do actually use the T. What happens to them if it goes away? Do some of them become unemployed, because they don't have other transportation needs? "Yes, there would be a significant number of people who would lose their jobs without the T. There would also be a significant number of disabled, elderly and youth who would have their ability to live independent lives considerably lessened. And many who don't use the T regularly will lose a valuable transportation option that we will increasingly need as oil prices soar.For that reason, I'm willing to spend the nickel a day it takes to cover my share of the expenses. As a matter of fact, I'd gladly pay a quarter a day if it meant we could actually get a better and more comprehensive system, the lack of which is one of the major reasons ridership isn't as high as it could be.

tir 6 years, 7 months ago

Seriously, igby, I think that a Lawrence/KC Shopping Shuttle would be very successful. I'm surprised some enterprising soul hasn't started one already. I would use it because I really dislike driving in KC. It would probably be best to use smaller vehicles than the current T buses, though.

standuporget 6 years, 7 months ago

dorothyhr (Dorothy Hoyt-Reed)Then those who are in love with their cars couldn't afford them anymore, and have to use the T. Win/win situation.OOOOK

Jim Phillips 6 years, 7 months ago

Exactly what we need; more busses blocking the traffic lanes of major roadways during rush hour. So how much fuel will be wasted by cars sitting in traffic unable to move because of the traffic flow issues that already plague this town? What about all of the damage that has to be repaired due to the lack of driving skills exhibited by impatient Lawrence drivers who can't seem to avoid other cars while weaving in and out of congested traffic? There are obviously many factors to be considered in all of this.I'm not agaisnt public transportation as long as it's a viable solution and doesn't cater to the "Me First" crowd that seems to dominate this city.

Confrontation 6 years, 7 months ago

"I don' t know all the details, but the fact remains that there were programs available."Where are the facts? I bet you are referring to a small non-profit that shut down 2 years ago due to a lack of funding. You have no idea about the programs here, yet you state it as a fact. No surprise there.

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