Taxpayers in Lawrence and Douglas County have benefited significantly over the years from various cooperative efforts between city and county government.
Hopefully, that spirit of cooperation isn’t being lost.
A story in Sunday’s Journal-World outlines a shift in thinking over how the city and county share the maintenance responsibility for the busy stretch of 31st Street from Iowa Street to Haskell Avenue. West of the Gaslight Village mobile home park, 31st Street is in the city limits. From Gaslight Village east to Louisiana Street, it is in the county. From Louisiana Street to Haskell Avenue the city limits runs down 31st Street’s center line with the northern half of the road in the city and the southern half in the county.
It’s a little confusing, but for many years city and county officials dealt with the situation by informally splitting the maintenance duties so the city took care of all the street west of Louisiana Street and the county handled maintenance east of Louisiana Street. Although that seemed like a workable and reasonable strategy, city officials have decided to upset the arrangement by telling the county that it must take back maintenance of the Gaslight-to-Louisiana stretch of 31st Street. In response, county officials say they will charge the city for its half of the maintenance east of Louisiana.
The immediate problem with that is that the eastern stretch isn’t even on the city’s priority list for funding right now, so even if the county believes work is needed on 31st Street, the city may be unwilling to pay its share. Will the county consider maintaining just the southern lane of the street and leaving the north lanes alone just to make a point?
The city’s public works director justifies the city’s new position by saying that city street dollars are tight and they must be directed at the city streets most in need of repairs. That is true, but is the maintenance of 31st Street really worth bucking a long tradition of city-county cooperation on many levels?
Lawrence and Douglas County share an ambulance and fire service, a jail and law enforcement center, a planning department and a health department. Those cooperative efforts save tax money and improve key services throughout the county. It’s certainly valid for city and county officials to review those cooperative arrangements from time to time to make sure they’re still working, but one-sided decisions don’t help solidify what has been a beneficial relationship between the city and county.
The maintenance lines the city is drawing on 31st Street may be legally defensible, but that doesn’t mean they will benefit taxpayers. In fact, they may feed a lack of city-county cooperation that could cost local taxpayers much more in the long run.