Town Talk: SLT, higher speeding fines for K-10, SRS issues on the city’s list of priorities for upcoming state legislative session; sand plant proposal in Jefferson County moving ahead

News and notes from around town:

• From speeders to the South Lawrence Trafficway to conservative tax proposals, the city of Lawrence has an official position on how the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature should play out. Now, how far an opinion from Lawrence will get you in the Kansas Statehouse is another matter.

You’ve got to think that some conservative lawmakers view Democratic-leaning Lawrence like cousin Larry. You know, every family has a cousin Larry. You can’t kick him out because he’s family, but you dang sure can make him sit at the kids table. (Wait a second, I sat at the kids table at my last family reunion.)

Regardless, Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are set to approve their 2012 Legislative Priorities Statement. Here’s a look at some of the items:

  1. Complete the South Lawrence Trafficway. Funding for the project is included in the T-Works comprehensive transportation program, and the city wants it to stay that way. The statement calls completion of the SLT a “key” project for Lawrence.
  2. Higher fines for speeders on Kansas Highway 10. The statement says Lawrence supports designating K-10 as a “Highway Safety Corridor.” Such corridors allow the state to charge higher than normal fines for traffic violations that occur on the road. The higher fines then would be used to fund more frequent patrols of K-10. The idea of safety corridor for K-10 has emerged because several serious and sometimes fatal accidents have occurred on the stretch of road between Lawrence and Johnson County.
  3. Taxpayer Bill of Rights is wrong. The city of Lawrence “strongly opposes” the enactment of state-imposed spending controls or lids such as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The statement concludes that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights creates an “arbitrary and capricious procedure for what should be an essential function of representative democracy.” The city maintains elected officials must maintain the authority to determine the appropriate spending and taxing policies of their local communities. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal generally puts limits on how much government can raise taxes without seeking voter approval through a referendum.
  4. One or the other, please. The statement asks that Lawrence be placed entirely in one Congressional district, rather than being split into two districts as it has been for the last decade. But the statement doesn’t get specific about whether Lawrence ought to be included in a district that includes Kansas City or whether it ought to be in a district that includes Topeka and fellow university community Manhattan.
  5. Don’t pull that SRS thing again. The statement expresses displeasure over the state’s decision to close the Lawrence SRS office, which led Lawrence and Douglas County commissioners to approve $450,000 in temporary funding to keep the office open. The statement says such a funding arrangement “was not acceptable but there was no alternative; these services are vital to the livelihood of thousand of our resident. (Ooh, breaking out the semi-colon. Nothing says we’re serious like a semi-colon.)
  6. Give us the names. The statement takes a shot at a state law that prohibits the city from requesting the names of tenants from landlords. The city has long contended the state law makes it difficult for the city to enforce its occupancy code, which makes it illegal to have more than three unrelated people living in a single-family home and more than four living in an apartment.
  7. Pension predicament. In past years, the city’s legislative priority statement usually has included some language about adequately funding the state’s pension system, KPERS. But now that talk has heated up about switching that system over to more of a 401(k) style plan, the language has changed in the statement. The city doesn’t take an official position on whether a 401(k) style system would be a change for the better, but it gives you some hints that city leaders are concerned about it. The statement asks legislators to “carefully consider” any changes to the KPERS system “in order to protect the city’s ability to hire and retain qualified public employees.”
  8. A fee increase that may be OK. It is not often that the city consents to the state charging the city a higher fee, but here’s one example where it may work. The statement says the city would be willing to pay a higher fee to access water rights through the “State Water Plan,” if the higher fees are used to preserve the “quantity and quality” of water resources in the area.
  9. Tax that Elvis commemorative plate. That’s right, Lawrence Internet shoppers, the city wants its piece of the pie on all those treasurers you’re finding on eBay and elsewhere. The city is asking the state of Kansas to get fully behind legislation that would impose a mandatory sales tax on all goods purchased through the Internet. But the city recognizes that such a tax would have to be established by Congress, not the Kansas legislature. But Congress these days is agreeing on so many issues tax-related, that I’m sure that is just around the corner.

City commissioners will discuss the legislative priorities at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.

• Doesn’t fun in the sand sound good right about now? Well, Jefferson County officials are set to have some, it appears, although I don’t think it involves suntan lotion and a cool beverage. The Jefferson County Planning Commission is set to consider a plan at its Tuesday meeting to build a sand pit operation on ground north of Lecompton on the Jefferson County side of the Kansas River.

As we previously reported, Midwest Concrete Materials — which took over the old LRM operations in Lawrence — has applied to build the new sand mining operating. MCM previously had tried to build a sand plant operation in northern Douglas County near Midland Junction. But that plan drew quite a bit of opposition from folks who were worried about losing prime agricultural ground and also from others who said the sand pit that eventually will become a lake will draw too many waterfowl to the area near the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

So far, it seems folks in Jefferson County are a little more laid back about matters involving sand pits. The Jefferson County Planning Commission had its public hearing on the matter last month, and the zoning administrator for the county told me the crowd was pretty sparse.

“Only a couple of people spoke against it, but really there wasn’t much public input on it,” said Bill Noll, zoning administrator for the county.

The planning commission did delay taking action on the request for a month in order to get more information about how the Perry-Lecompton road that runs by the site would be impacted by the sand trucks.

Noll didn’t have specific numbers readily available on the number of trucks that would be entering and leaving the facility, but he said it would be significant.

“You definitely are talking about more than a dozen trucks a day,” Noll said. “But you’re probably talking about a worst-case scenario that during their peak times there would still be less than a dozen trucks per hour.”

About 70 percent of the trucks, Noll said, will be heading south into Douglas County to MCM’s concrete plant.

If planning commissioner approve the sand plant, the project will go to the Jefferson County Commission in January for final approval.