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Archive for Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nature center to stay open

An overflow crowd watches the proceedings of the city commission hearing on budget cuts on a closed circuit television.

An overflow crowd watches the proceedings of the city commission hearing on budget cuts on a closed circuit television.

February 4, 2009

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Commission votes to save nature center, but other cuts imminent

City commissioners voted Tuesday to keep the Prairie Park Nature Center, in response to hundreds of emails from angry citizens. Enlarge video

You can’t beat Mother Nature, and evidently you can’t close her either.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday quickly backed away from a staff recommendation to close the city-owned Prairie Park Nature Center. The closure had been recommended as part of a series of cuts to respond to a state proposal that would reduce state funding to the city by about $1.1 million this summer.

Commissioners said they received about 300 e-mails in a 72-hour period, with most urging the city to save the southeastern Lawrence center that houses birds, snakes and other nature displays.

“I don’t think any of us have the stomach to close Prairie Park Nature Center,” Commissioner Sue Hack said at the beginning of the weekly meeting, which included an overflowing crowd at City Hall.

By the end of the meeting — which featured about 90 minutes of public comment decrying a host of proposed budget cuts — all five commissioners confirmed they didn’t support the Prairie Park proposal.

The evening included often emotional pleas from nature-lovers of all ages. More than a dozen children asked commissioners to save the center.

“It is a great place to go if you need information on animals,” said Eva Bradley, who struggled to see over the City Commission lectern. “And it is a good place to go if you are not feeling happy.”

If that’s the case, city commissioners may end up visiting the center themselves. They took the nature center closure off the table, but left other cuts open for debate.

Some of those include:

• Eliminating city funding for the school crossing-guard program. City leaders hope the school district will be able to absorb the program, which costs about $50,000 per year.

• Layoffs of three full-time employees in the city Human Relations division, which enforces anti-discrimination laws. Lawrence’s local anti-discrimination law would continue to exist, but would be enforced by existing staff attorneys.

• A host of funding cuts for social service agencies, youth organizations and art programs. Agencies that receive funding from the city’s share of the state alcohol tax would be hit hardest because the governor’s proposed budget would eliminate alcohol tax payments to cities.

• Elimination of several programs, including the City Band concerts in South Park, the youth bicycle helmet program, and CPR training classes.

• A reduction in hours at community centers and swimming pools, and closure of the South Park wading pool.

None of the commissioners endorsed any of the proposed cuts, but they did say that if the state follows through on reducing funding to cities that major changes would have to be made.

“I learned a long time ago that there is budget, and then there is money,” Commissioner Mike Amyx said. “We can put all that we want into the budget, but if the money doesn’t come in, we can’t do it.”

City Manager David Corliss, whose office created the list of possible city cuts, said he hopes none of the cuts have to come to fruition.

“This is Plan B,” Corliss said of the possible reductions in city services. “This is the retreat battle plan.”

Instead, city leaders hope that Lawrence residents will deluge local legislators with e-mails and phone calls like they did with city commissioners.

“Contact your legislators,” Mayor Mike Dever said as the crowd left City Hall. “Call, call, call.”

The city could face a shortfall in state funding beginning in July, when the state’s fiscal year begins. The timing is terrible, commissioners said, because the city would have no ability to raise property taxes in 2009 to compensate for the loss in funding. Property tax rates must be set by the beginning of each calendar year.

But commissioners could raise fees for several programs. Several commissioners said they wanted to review those options, including making the Prairie Park Nature Center more fee-oriented.

Commissioners also said they wanted to look at ways to rely more on community volunteers for everything from taking care of downtown flowers to staffing crossing guard locations.

Many speakers urged the city to keep the school crosswalk program intact with paid crossing guards.

“I’m afraid there would be definite incidents that would occur that none of us would want to explain after-the-fact,” said Kevin Loos, a Lawrence resident.

Commissioners said they may hold a town hall meeting on possible budget cuts. Staff members said they would continue to monitor proposals related to the state budget. The state’s budget likely won’t be set until April or May. Corliss said the city would need to be in a position to respond to those cuts by July.

In other business, commissioners:

• Directed their legal staff — on a 4-1 vote — to file the necessary paperwork to intervene in a Douglas County District Court lawsuit involving the Douglas County Commission and neighbors near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. At issue is the annexation of about 155 acres of property, which has been proposed as a new business park. Neighbors contend the County Commission did not follow the proper process in allowing the city to annex the land. If the city is allowed to intervene, that theoretically would allow the case to continue on even if the County Commission ends its defense of the lawsuit. That could be a possibility given that the majority on the County Commission has changed since the lawsuit was filed. Commissioner Boog Highberger was the dissenting vote.

• Had no objection to a proposed list of projects that the city could submit as part of a future stimulus package coming out of Washington, D.C.

Comments

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Keep the below action in mind and note who the super majority is. This action will increase taxes. Annexation increase taxes because it requires city services. The same goes for the North Lawrence project. Always keep in mind developers are expensive budget items ONLY when their commissioners are governing our community. Why vote these people into office? Lawrence,Kansas cannot afford this type of commissioner!The below action should be allowed in court. The below action is unethical and questionable. Local special interests are pushing this decision. Directed their legal staff — on a 4-1 vote — to file the necessary paperwork to intervene in a Douglas County District Court lawsuit involving the Douglas County Commission and neighbors near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. At issue is the annexation of about 155 acres of property, which has been proposed as a new business park. Neighbors contend the County Commission did not follow the proper process in allowing the city to annex the land. If the city is allowed to intervene, that theoretically would allow the case to continue on even if the County Commission ends its defense of the lawsuit. That could be a possibility given that the majority on the County Commission has changed since the lawsuit was filed. Commissioner Boog Highberger was the dissenting vote.

Noweigh 5 years, 10 months ago

We face tough choices but we've known that for a long time. this is a time that private business could be asked to partner with the city. The band concerts, bicycle helmet program, CPR classes and others are all programs ripe for private sponsorship. We're more insulated from tough economic times than most cities but its time to reconcile the books and budget responsibly. Let's hope private, local businesses can assist and help save some of these worthy programs.

like_n_Lawrence 5 years, 10 months ago

Marty Birrell and her team are great assets to the City of Lawrence. The Prairie Park Nature Center is an amazing place for the community. Kids learn to love and care for wildlife. Where would the little injured and lost animals go that animal control picks up? Keep the Nature Center alive. There is data that shows kids that don't respect animals can grow up doing worse things. Keep learning respect...keep the Nature Center. Thanks Marty!!

newshound25 5 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

honestone 5 years, 10 months ago

Just think...for the cost of one well designed roundabout we could have our school crossing guards paid for 3 or 4 years. I do agree that it would be better to save a poor little bird then to keep an eye on our children while crossing busy streets. Stupid chldren...

Southwester 5 years, 10 months ago

they are going to cut social services, crossing guards, arts and music programs, close community centers and youth programs, but are going TO PRESERVE RAISES for city employees? Outrageous. I'm a state employee and will likely not get a raise this year. This is outrageous.

rachaelisacancer 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm so happy to hear Prairie Park Nature Center won't be closing, but I'm hoping we can find a way to keep the other programs like the South Park city band and the youth helmet program. Tough times!

appleaday 5 years, 10 months ago

Noweigh, you're right. It's time for all of us to act as citizens. We're all spoiled by the idea that someone else will take care of things we take for granted. These difficult times call for creative solutions.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

It seems to me that new road projects for Lawrence should be put on the wayyyyyyyy back burner.All new roads and other infrastructure will do is add plenty ADDITIONAL costs to community services aka tax increases. The new road projects,sewage treatment plant,warehouse projects etc etc are still on the table.Following the construction of the new roads:$88 million sewage treatment plantmore new roads to maintain water and sewer lines to mainatin more street repairsmore housesmore public schools to maintain more fire stations to maintian more law enforcement manpower to maintainsidewalks more snow removal more bike trails and cross walks more Traffic signals more Traffic calming developers requesting more tax dollar assistance(new infrastructure) for theirwarehouses and retail strip malls.In general increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers.It seems Lawrence,Kansas should maintain what it has before adding on. However we have four commissioners who do not think this way. We need 3 who will provide fiscally responsible decisions and forget the new high dollar projects for awhile.======================What could $ 88 million or less accomplish? Invest in exisiting infrastructure instead of allowing it to go to hell due to negligence.Repair streets and sidewalks in:DowntownOld west LawrenceOld East LawrenceBarkerBrookcreekNorth LawrenceOreadwhich would provide tons of local jobs.Build a $17.5 million dollar library across the street from the New Hampshire parking garage(saves 10 million) and make use of a failed TIF project aka parking garage. OR do a rehab project on site and provide a satellite library to our west Lawrence Neighbors.Keep Prairie Park Nature CenterKeep crossing guards until other arrangements have been madeKeep swimming pools openProvide development funding for a economic growth team in city hall. Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is not staffed accordingly. There is more transparency in City hall.Our public transportation system needs a larger maintenance facility.Investing in existing infrastructure pays back and is good for business.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Clinton Lake Regional Park? = large expenditure. Taxpayers were asking for transparency yetnone of this surfaced in the commission meeting. 2009 Carnegie Building Renovate building for use as a recreation facility $800,0002009 Green Meadows Park Phase I - Construct ponds and berm and install landscape $200,0002009 Peterson Road Park Phase I - Playground, picnic area, play field, basketball court $250,0002009 Clinton Lake Regional Park Extend 27th street from YSI to Dam Road for park entrance & exit $400,0002009 South Park Install rubberized play surface under playground $50,0002009 Overland Drive Park Masterplan park for future development $50,0002009 Clinton Lake Regional Park Youth Baseball / Softball Complex (4 fields) $2,000,0002009 Land acquisition Future park land $300,0002010 Watson Park Install rubberized play surface under playground $50,0002010 Overland Drive Park Develop park $300,0002010 Trail Development Expand trail from Stonegate Park to Kasold Dr $150,0002010 West Side Recreation Center On Langston Hughes Elementary School property $5,000,0002010 Land acquisition Future park land $300,000$280,0002011 Clinton Lake Regional Park Develop Adult Soccer fields $500,0002011 Clinton Lake Regional Park Develop practice area for soccer, baseball, softball ( roads & irrigation pond) $200,0002011 Folks & Peterson Park Masterplan park for future development $150,0002011 Land acquisition Future park land $300,0002012 Burroughs Creek Trail Connect trail from 29th street crossing to Prairie Park $200,0002012 Trail Development New Trail connecting Clinton Pkway , Bob Billings Pkway & 6th street $400,0002012 Trail Development 27th & Crossgate to Inverness Dr in natural area $200,0002012 Peterson Park Construct 2nd phase $325,0002012 Land acquisition Future park land $300,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Amphitheater at Sesquicentennial point $1,300,000Eagle Bend Golf Course Addition to Pro Shop & Concessions $250,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Water line and sewer main extensions $200,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Baseball Stadium for age 16-19 players $500,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Phase 1 of soccer complex development (2 fields) $500,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Develop additional hard surface trails $900,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Develop large community gathering shelter $1,600,000Centennial Park Install new skate features in skate park $150,000Centennial Park Master plan development Phase IV (park lighting , trails, sport fields) $250,000Broken Arrow Park Replace ball diamond light $65,000Clinton Lake Regional Park Pond to reduce City water usage for irrigation of Golf Course & YSI $35,000Clinton Lake Softball Complex Replace net around playground $2,500

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

"like_n_Lawrence (Anonymous) says…Marty Birrell and her team are great assets to the City of Lawrence. The Prairie Park Nature Center is an amazing place for the community. Kids learn to love and care for wildlife. Where would the little injured and lost animals go that animal control picks up? Keep the Nature Center alive. There is data that shows kids that don't respect animals can grow up doing worse things. Keep learning respect…keep the Nature Center. Thanks Marty!!"Absolutely.... a well managed park facility. Thanks Marty and thanks commissioners for removing this from the chopping block. I am assuming the LJW is correct.

Jaminrawk 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm glad. I live in this neighborhood, my daugher goes to school at Prarie Park and she goes to the Nature Center a lot in the Spring and Summer (anytime the weather is ok to walk). The nature center in a great place for kids to learn about Kansas. Who knew you could see a bald eagle there or throw birthday parties? More people should check it out, it's a nice educational alternative when you need something fun to do with kids.

RushIsRight 5 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

workinghard 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm curious to know how many crossing guards have been hit while on duty, I can recall at least two. One was at 19th and Mass and one at 23rd and Ousdahl, does anyone know of any more? I hope those volunteers the city commissioners are talking about have good insurance because a lot of drivers just have the minimum liability insurance and it doesn't cover much in the way of medical bills. If the driver does not have any assets to sue for the volunteer is out of luck.

inglec 5 years, 10 months ago

For those of who are in favor of not closing Prairie Park Nature Center step up and help pay the cost of the expensives for maintaining the facility.

Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 10 months ago

Dever: “Contact your legislators,” Mayor Mike Dever said as the crowd left City Hall. “Call, call, call.”Two points:1) Sen. Francisco was evidently in attendance. Why didn't Commr Dever, Merrill and other concerned citizens ask her why she voted for a budget which imposed these cuts just a couple of weeks ago.2) What message is Commr Dever wanting delivered to the legislators? Raise state taxes to cover the funding shortfalls? If these programs are valued, why not raise the money here?

madameX 5 years, 10 months ago

Maybe the city should start up some sort of "Friends of the Nature Center" program the way some cities have "Friends of the Zoo" programs to help offset the cost. I'd kick in some money if that meant that kids whose families can't really afford an admission fee would still get to go there for free. Same for band concerts and other non-vital things that still make our town a nice place to live. People would effectively get to vote which programs to support with their contributions, which is better that having them cut and is also better than some sort of general tax hike because at least you have control over which programs to donate to. Although I think the airport and the golf course should be subject to the same sort of program. IMO, they're far less important to the town than crossing guards and CPR training classes and youth programs.

absolutelyridiculous 5 years, 10 months ago

As usual, save the animals (nature center) but throw the humans under the bus (crossing guards). Come on Commissioners...have some balls to make a decision instead of raising taxes...AGAIN. I doubt the nature center crowd will riot. Fly away big eagle, fly away.

c_dubya 5 years, 10 months ago

My kid will be happy about this.Side note: what's up with the stupid popups LJWorld? That's SOOOOO 1990's!

Hawklight 5 years, 10 months ago

I was at the meeting last night. And I spoke. Then I read this list today and am appalled by some of what I hear.1) Eagle Bend - it was made absolutely clear last night why closing this facility is NOT a viable (or smart) option. Lawrence does NOT own the land (the Army Corps of Engineers does), and there is still time left on the lease (which the city must pay for - even if the course is closed). There is still over $1 Million owed on the bond for the construction of the course (which has to be paid - even if the city closes the course). Leasing the course to a 3rd party to operate the course is not realistic, because it requires an interested 3rd party. None exists. The course DOES produce some revenue; albeit not much. Raising fees or holding charity tournaments at Eagle Bend to benefit impacted city services seems to be a more forward-thinking way to better utilize this city asset. 2) Budgetary Transparency. The entire budget process IS transparent. The budget meetings are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. The available information is rather extensive and available for free on the city's website. The problem is not one of transparency, but one of public ignorance over the budgetary process, and the legal/procedural constraints on the city's budgetary actions. Although the information is available, it is not presented in a way that is inherently intuitive to the general public. The city council is considering Town Hall meetings to address this. If you don't understand the process - attend the meetings. Take it upon yourself to get (and stay) informed.3) Road work/infrastructure as a budgetary priority. The city conducted a public poll (which was available to everyone in the city) and the vast majority of respondents reported road conditions as the most important issue facing the city. Now, roughly 45% of residents responded in the poll. The first rule of politics is that the budget is a zero-sum game. $1 = $1. So, given a situation of limited, and exhaustible resources, the city MUST prioritize its spending. The second rule is that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". The city chose to conduct a poll to determine the public will on this matter, and then acted accordingly. We all know that 45% does not equal 100%. If you are angry about this decision, and did not participate in the poll, then shame on you. If you did participate, and do not agree, then it is up to you to rally support for your views, and present them to the council, through ACTIVE participation.And, as a side note, the city council has stopped funding, and will not fund further roundabouts in the city. Yes, it was a bad decision, but one that is OVER. Move on.Let me be clear, I am no apologist for our city's politicians. Yet I cannot ignore the public's civic responsibility either. The political process CANNOT work unless the public both understands, AND participates in that process.

denak 5 years, 10 months ago

Personally, I am happy that the Nature Center is staying open. I always thought it was a good place to take the children. And we sorely need places for children here in Lawrence.However, in the times I have been there, I have rarely seen more than a few other people there. (excluding Halloween) So, as far as money goes, I'm not sure if there really is a good financial reason for keeping it open. That is the reality right now. Things will have to be cut and if a place isn't making a profit, or if it bleeding money or it takes more to maintain it then it is worth, the reality is that it should be shut. As for other programs, we have to distinguish between a "want" and a "need." Just like a family budget.In my opinion, we do not "need" a helmet program. This is the parents responsibility. If you buy your kind a bike or a skateboard, buy a helmet also. It is only 20 - 40 dollars. Also, I don't think we need to pay crossing gaurds. If it is this important, have people volunteer. Again, why should the government pay for it. Get the PTA involved. If they can get people to volunteer for trips and parties, they should get people to volunteer for crossing gaurd duty.As for the wading pool, it should go. Again it is nice but it cost more than it is bringing in. If we started charging a dollar or so for it, then maybe we should keep it but it is a want not a need. And if a wading pool is that important, buy one.And CPR lesson, again, why is the city paying for this???? If you need it for your job, your job should pay for it. Or pay for it out of your pocket.Times are tough and in order to maintain services that are essential (ie Boys and Girls Clubs, programs for at risk youths) then we need to cut things that are "nice" but not essential.And that extends to people's salaries although I favor more of a freeze as oppose to a cut. Dena

Hawklight 5 years, 10 months ago

I would also like to applaud Pilgrim2, and Southwester's comment: "but are going to preserve raises for city employees? Outrageous. I'm a state employee and will likely not get a raise this year. This is outrageous."I concur. While the UNION NEGOTIATED raises for some of the city's employees cannot be changed, there is $360 Million "wiggle room" in the salary increases for non-union employees. This includes a 2% "across the board" increase, a 2.5% - 5% merit increase, and a longevity bonus (for being an employee for more than 5 years). If the "across the board" raises, and the longevity bonuses are set (for the remainder of the budget crisis) at $0, and the merit raises are "capped" at 2%, then the city will save a substantial amount of $$ in the general fund.In this economy, people are more concerned with keeping their jobs. In that light, any argument in favor of a 7% vs. 2% raise seems rather petty (not to mention fiscally irresponsible). I applaud Mr. Corliss and the department heads for not taking a raise until July, but its time to make serious cuts. Roll back the raises for the rest of the non-union city employees to a maximum of 2% for MERIT. Get rid of the longevity bonus, and there should be no "across the board" raises until the budget crisis is over.

newshound25 5 years, 10 months ago

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flux 5 years, 10 months ago

This could of been a good lesson in unerstaing the difference between needs and wants. Unerstand what it means to sacrafice......but no!

SassyGirl 5 years, 10 months ago

I am glad that the nature center will remain open. Many people don't realize that the center does far more than educate the community. They also rehabilitate wildlife that have been wounded. And there is more to the nature center than just the building, it is the entire park filled with trails and Mary's lake. They have done a fantastic job fixing the area up over the years. It is now much more enjoyable to visit with the execption that it is generally more crowed than in years past. Kind of a bummer that the rest of Lawrence found out about it.

spankyandcranky 5 years, 10 months ago

merrill: that is an incredible list! What is the source?

spankyandcranky 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm referring to the list of spening amounts for each project proposed and the year they're proposed for ... I forgot you had posted more than one list ;-)

spankyandcranky 5 years, 10 months ago

Pilgrim2: If you aren't going to contribute anything constructive, why bother contributing at all? Rude comments directed at people who appear to be trying to offer solutions are unproductive and unnecessary. If you want to take a nap, do so. Why do you feel you need to inform the rest of us? More action, less talk, please. Thank you.

d_prowess 5 years, 10 months ago

I love the need and want comments and think they are very appropriate for this subject. Obviously there are going to be disagreements on some items, but others should be clear cut. And as for some of the programs, like the nature center, if they are going to stay open, charge something!! It is just seems incredibly irresponsible not to.

khawk1949 5 years, 10 months ago

I believe the city of lawrence needs to get into survival mode, eliminate all unnecessary expenses. It's time to grow up, you just can't have everything.

spankyandcranky 5 years, 10 months ago

Hawklight and denak, thank you for your insightful thoughts. I agree with you completely!

LadyJ 5 years, 10 months ago

Charge the school district for all those field trips to the nature center then use it to pay the crossing guards.

rusty2 5 years, 10 months ago

wow that nature center is surely more important than the Baker Wetlands!where is the logic in an obsolete SLT that plows through wetlands - while working to have the nature center.are not the Baker Wetlands alredy a nature center?

Yabut 5 years, 10 months ago

Apparently alot of people don't understand the difference between a "need" and a "want". If you're still confused, see Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I'll even include a link for you - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsIn our current economy, we must fund "needs" before we fund "wants". Anyone who would chose to fund a "want" before a "need" should have their head examined.

gl0ck0wn3r 5 years, 10 months ago

It is awesome how a small group of professionally outraged Lawrence proles can push their personal agenda. My prediction: if they touch any other "service" they'll get the same response and they'll back down again. In the end, they'll be unable to cut anything. Suckers. Possible example: cutting pool hours. The same outraged citizens will show up and complain and the govt will back off.Richard, I find it amusing that at a time when the city needs to make cuts, you are cutting and pasting the same tired, self-serving garbage about how improving your neighborhood will somehow help the economy. Get a grip and come up with original material.

Kaw Pickinton 5 years, 10 months ago

Dammit! I thought we were going to cut everything a child might enjoy in this town! They have WAY to much to do as it is what with the.............golf?Roundabouts! THE "T" Is Empty! (and apparently driving it's self)

Mischka 5 years, 10 months ago

Exactly, I remember when Mary's Lake really wasn't a place to go due to trashy people and trash littering the place. The Prarie Nature Center and the work there to really make the area a viable resource for Lawrence has really paid off! We used to take our day care kids there all the time, and to this day those grown kids talk about their visits there. I don't mind the idea of contributing a dollar a person to visit and cutting back visitation hours there and at some of our other municipal services like the pool. I think we SHOULD continue paying crossing guards. Volunteer pools are going to shrink as family budgets shrink and more family members spend their time looking for paying FT and PT jobs. Also, another person losing a job is another person not paying for one of YOU to KEEP YOUR jobs. Who would you rather have watching your kids: unpaid, possibly untrained volunteers or paid, trained employees with a system of background checks and job reviews?

Marci Francisco 5 years, 10 months ago

The city is responding to the Governor's proposed budget for FY2010. The legislature has been debating adjustments to the FY2009 state budget and will then start work on the 2010 budget. No legislators have yet voted to adopt a budget that would make these cuts.

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