City urged to create sustainability post

Task force recommends increase in fees to pay for new position

City residents could be asked to start paying a little extra each month on their city utility bills to battle global warming.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Climate Protection decided Wednesday to make such a recommendation when it delivers its final report to Lawrence city commissioners sometime in March.

The new fee — the amount wasn’t specified — would be used to fund a new sustainability director position that would oversee city efforts to reduce electricity usage, fossil fuel consumption and other changes that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayor Mike Dever, who leads the task force, said he was open to the idea of a new fee, as long as it wasn’t too large.

“I believe we shouldn’t be creating new duties or a new position for our administrative staff without providing funding for it,” Dever said. “This is one of the ways we could accomplish some of these goals.”

The report introduces a number of ideas on how the city could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Among some of the suggestions in the report:

• Equipping police cars with bike racks so that it would be easier for police officers to do bike patrols in the city.

• Convert the city’s transit fleet from diesel fuel usage to a more environmentally friendly alternative fuel.

• Installing new technology that would allow traffic signals to automatically change to green as transit buses approach, thus reducing the amount of time the buses are idling.

• Start a program to encourage homeowners to convert standard porch lights to more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

• Strengthen building codes to require more energy-efficient and longer-lasting materials.

Other than the building code changes, most of the plan does not mandate the private sector to change practices. But group members said they hope that if city government starts changing its practices, residents and the private sector would follow suit.

“Hopefully everyone will understand that the city can’t be the only one that steps up and makes changes,” said Susan Rodgers, a task force member and the environmental administrator for Hallmark’s Lawrence operations.

The task force made the hiring of a new sustainability director its top recommendation but also said it did not want the city to delay making changes to its operations while it was trying to figure out how to fund the position.

Task force members said they hoped a new fee could be added to city water and sewer bills by 2010. The fee would not be added to electric or gas bills that city residents receive.

The task force previously had discussed recommending a new “carbon tax” that would charge residents an extra fee each month based on the amount of electricity that a household or business uses. Boulder, Colo., voters earlier this decade approved a similar tax.

But ultimately, the task force decided not to include that idea in its recommendations.