News and notes from around town:
• The gavel is about to be passed at Lawrence’s Municipal Court. Judge Randy McGrath has notified the city that he plans to retire in March, after serving as the city’s lone judge since 1998. The city has begun advertising for applicants to oversee Municipal Court, which handles everything from criminal cases, speeding tickets, zoning law and other violations of city code.
The city has begun advertising for applicants to fill the job. The city is seeking someone with at least five years of legal and trial experience in Kansas, although they preferably are looking for someone with municipal judicial experience. The pay range is $62,000 to $92,000. McGrath currently makes about $92,000 per year.
No word yet on how McGrath — who was a noted tennis player at K-State and once played in exhibition tennis matches with Wimbledon champion Vitas Gerulaitis and Olympian Bruce Jenner — plans to spend his retirement.
• There will be no suspense as December ends about whether the city’s building industry will put up larger totals than it did a year ago. According to a new City Hall report, Lawrence builders surpassed most 2009 totals at the end of November. The report shows 137 single-family homes have been started in the city during the first 11 months of the year. That’s up from 110 started in all of 2009. Builders also have started 247 remodeling jobs this year, up from 200 for all of 2009.
And perhaps most important — to City Hall budget makers anyway — building permit fees already are above last year’s totals. The city has collected $599,455 in fees, up from $565,524 for all of 2009. Duplex and apartment construction are two areas where builders haven’t quite surpassed last year’s totals. Duplex permits check in at 10 through November compared to 16 for all of 2009. Apartment construction has totaled 96 units compared to 172 in 2009.
Taking a longer-term view, the number of single-family home permits — long the lifeblood of the local construction industry — are at their highest mark since 2007. But that’s not saying much. The past three years have been among the worst on record. Here’s a look at single family home numbers since 2000:
• 2009 - 110
• 2008 - 102
• 2007 - 166
• 2006 – 247
• 2005 - 232
• 2004 - 313
• 2003 - 317
• 2002 - 304
• 2001 - 308
• 2000 - 305
• There are new signs out of City Hall that the arts are going to get more attention in the near future. The city is allowing the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission to hold back $5,000 from its 2010 budget to put toward a study of the local arts community. The Arts Commission recently has created an Arts Sustainability Task Force to study the economic impact of the Lawrence arts scene and to develop a strategy about ways to garner future funding for arts initiatives. The $5,000 from the Arts Commission’s budget likely will be used to hire a consultant to help create a strategic plan.
In case you’re wondering, the Arts Commission received about $36,000 in city funding in 2010, with the money coming from a portion of the special alcohol tax the city receives from the state.
In the same vein, a group of city leaders also recently toured the Kansas City Arts Incubator to get ideas about how Lawrence could perhaps start an incubator facility. The Kansas City Arts Incubator provides 47 studio spaces in KC’s Crossroads Arts District, and also helps artists develop business skills that incubator leaders say are often lacking in art institute graduates.