Two local governments are drawing a line in the pavement, one that could extend a dividing line into other areas of public services.
Both the city of Lawrence and Douglas County are planning to repave sections of 31st Street, generally between Ousdahl Road and Louisiana Street. But exactly who does what, when and for how much has been up for debate in recent weeks.
This much is clear:
• The city of Lawrence plans to repair 31st, from Ousdahl Road to a point at the eastern edge of Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park. That’s where the city’s border ends. Work is expected to begin Monday, closing one lane of traffic at a time.
• County crews will repair from that point east, all the way to Louisiana. That includes a stretch of about 700 feet of road outside the city limits that, until now, had been cared for by the city. The switch in responsibilities — initiated by city officials, who say they were responsible only for regular maintenance, not major repairs — will be expected to cost the county anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 for materials.
While drivers may not notice much of a difference in service — the entire stretch still will have its worst sections torn out and replaced — the switch could lead to other, larger decisions in the months and years ahead.
County officials, in years past, previously have agreed to care for the section of 31st that runs from Louisiana to Haskell Avenue, the northern half of which is in the city and southern half is not. Now, county officials plan to hold the city responsible for half the cost of repaving, repairing and otherwise maintaining that section, work expected to be necessary later this year or by the end of 2011 at the latest.
“They’re not going to stand by what they’ve done in the past,” said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. “But those are the new rules of the game, and we’ll deal with it.”
‘Where does this fit?’
Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works, said he would expect to be asked for money to help repair 31st, east of Louisiana. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be available, no matter what the county says.
“We’re talking substantial dollars, and we know there are substantial needs on our other city streets,” Soules said. “It’s going to be: Where does this fit within our priorities?”
Soules acknowledges that the eastern side of 31st doesn’t appear to be high on the list. Actually, it’s not even on the list because the city hasn’t included it on the city’s compilation of pavement “grades” assigned to all other municipal streets.
Where all this back-and-forth on a single street will lead remains to be seen. But talk of shared costs and responsibilities isn’t unusual.
The city and county team up on plenty of projects and programs, including the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and, perhaps most notably, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.
The county runs the joint Emergency Dispatch Center and operates Douglas County Jail — two services whose workloads deal largely with incidents within the city limits. City Hall, meanwhile, is home to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office, and dozens of city services are available to tens of thousands of county residents.
All Lawrence residents, after all, live in Douglas County.
‘A political thing’
“That’s the discussion you always have,” Soules said. “Lawrence is part of the county, and that’s the argument: Should some of the county’s road and bridge money be spent in the city of Lawrence, since the majority of that money came from the city taxpayers?
“That’s a political thing.”
Weinaug understands the dynamics, especially now. Governments don’t have “extra” money to spend on anything, a reality that can prompt officials to seek ways for maintaining their own services at the expense of others.
That’s too bad, he said.
“Doing things cooperatively is the best way to do business,” Weinaug said. “It’s more efficient. We get more accomplished. If we spend our energy having to re-examine all the (interlocal) agreements, it’s a waste of energy.”
Soules isn’t ready to scrap all coordinated work between city and county departments, but is clear about his priorities: When it comes to the city’s money, the city’s roads need to be fixed first.
After that, as the two departments and governments move further down the road, he wouldn’t be surprised to see other joint relationships be reviewed.
“It’s probably not a bad thing to revisit those things — just to make sure both jurisdictions can justify what they spend,” Soules said. “Dollars are hard to come by anymore, and we want to be sure. …
“When it comes to spending substantial amounts of money, both of us have to be accountable to the people who are paying for all these improvements.”