Trash was supposed to be the topic of the year at Lawrence City Hall in 2011. Come to find out, one year is not enough.
Instead, 2011 was a warm-up for a host of big decisions that city commissioners likely will be asked to make in 2012 about the future of trash and recycling in Lawrence.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of discussion about trash in the first quarter of 2012,” said City Commissioner Bob Schumm, who if tradition holds will move up from his vice mayor spot to become mayor in April. “I think by the end of the first quarter, we’re going to have the trash issue resolved.”
But a decision won’t come without a lot of hand-wringing. Since a city-appointed Solid Waste Task Force began work in April, a lot of talk has centered on requiring Lawrence households to use a special plastic trash cart instead of standard bags or trash cans.
Task force members have heard plenty of questions from residents about why the city wants to change their weekly routine.
“There are a lot of good questions out there, but I think we’ll end up with a lot of good answers,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell, who is chairman of the Solid Waste Task Force. “It will be powerful to talk about the amount of money we can save by doing this.”
Cromwell said the task force has seen evidence in other communities where the plastic carts can cut operational costs by increasing the amount of automation. In some communities — Olathe and Eudora are both nearby examples — trucks are operated by single driver controlling a robotic arm. In Lawrence, most trash trucks have a crew of three people.
Thus far, Cromwell has indicated the city would likely cut workforce totals through attrition rather than layoffs if the city moves to a more automated fleet. In addition, Cromwell is expecting savings from reduced workers’ compensation costs because employees have to do less lifting with a cart system.
Commissioners also are expected to tackle the subject of curbside recycling. Cromwell said he expects one of the commission’s first decisions will be whether to accept bids from private companies to operate a citywide curbside recycling program. The city also will have to decide whether to make the curbside program a mandatory pay system, meaning that every resident would pay for the service regardless of whether they choose to set out recycling each week.
Other issues that are expected to be major items at Lawrence City Hall in 2012 include:
• Development of the former Farmland Industries site. Cleanup of the old buildings and structures at the former fertilizer plant in eastern Lawrence is largely complete. Now city commissioners said they’ll start a master planning process to determine precisely how they want to use the more than 400-acre site for an industrial park and open space.
The city already has received a grant to study how alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal, can be used to power activities at the site.
“It has a tremendous opportunity to be a really unique asset for us,” Schumm said.
City Manager David Corliss said he also expects 2012 to be the year that the city begins building a new entrance to the park off Kansas Highway 10 and building a new frontage road that connects the property with the adjacent East Hills Business Park.
“For quite a while now we’ve been saying this project has more attorneys than shovels,” Corliss said. “We want to rotate that around in 2012.”
• Expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. Construction is expected to begin in the latter half of 2012 on a $19 million, voter-approved expansion of the downtown library.
Many of the design decisions on the project have been made, but commissioners have a major one remaining: parking. The project currently calls for a parking garage for about 250 cars. But commissioners have directed architects to draw up a design that would allow another level of parking to be added to the garage, depending on construction costs. Commissioners will make the decision on whether to add another level — about 75 spaces — to the garage when construction bids are received.
• Planning for a west Lawrence recreation center. Commissioners aren’t expecting 2012 to be the year construction begins on a new recreation center. Rather, it may be the year when commissioners find out if the community is really behind the project.
City officials have been in discussions with the nonprofit foundation of Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self about a $1 million donation for the project.
But several commissioners have said they would like to see about $3 million in private donations for a new center, which likely would cost about $15 million.
Commissioners have directed staff to begin negotiation with private fundraising firms to determine the feasibility of a capital campaign for the project.
The city also plans to hire an architect to create more precise cost estimates and evaluate several potential sites for the center.
Commissioners, though, aren’t making any promises about where the project will stand at the end of 2012.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get there in 2012 or not,” Schumm said. “I’m really concerned about coming up with the $3 million in private money we’ve talked about. I think I would be hard-pressed to move forward without having some significant matching money.”