News and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence Police Department likely will soon get a new detective position that is responsible for investigating crimes against women. The city has received word that it has won a nearly $54,000 federal grant to fund one new detective position that would investigate incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, rape, stalking and other similar crimes. City commissioners now must decide whether to accept the grant, and provide approximately $18,000 in local matching funds.
Interim Police Chief Tarik Khatib is recommending the city move forward. He said that 2009 statistics show his department responded to 71 rape cases, 598 domestic battery, 24 sexual battery and 11 stalking cases. He said the “vast majority” of victims in the cases were women. Currently, the department does not have a detective who is in charge of investigating crimes against women. Khatib said absent special circumstances most domestic violence cases are handled by the police officer who responds to the call. A detective usually is not assigned to the case. Khatib said having a detective be part of the process will increase “efficiency, victim advocacy and offender accountability.”
City Manager David Corliss also is recommending approval of the new position, but he warns that it may create funding issues in 2012 and beyond. The federal grant is only guaranteed for one year. If the city doesn’t provide additional funding for the department in 2012, Corliss said the total number of police officer positions likely would be reduced by one — through attrition — to account for the new detective position.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
• The mystery of whether the Hobby Lobby store at 23rd and Ousdahl will get a major face-lift will be explored by city commissioners on Tuesday. To make it even more interesting, commissioners also will take up the issue of whether a special sales tax should be charged at the business.
As we previously reported, a Mission-based development group in August asked city commissioners to create a special taxing district near 23rd and Ousdahl. The new Community Improvement District would allow for a special 1 percent sales tax to be charged at four businesses. The proceeds of the extra tax would be used to fund about $1.5 million worth of projects that include public infrastructure improvements but also include private building upgrades. Of the four businesses, three are on the north side of 23rd Street — a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, a Yokohama sushi restaurant and the former Kwik Shop that will be redeveloped for other retail uses. Developers have submitted detailed plans for improvements to be made to those sites. But no plans have been submitted for improvements to be made at the Hobby Lobby site, despite the fact the tax also would be charged there.
Commissioners in August balked at the idea of creating the new taxing district, largely because details weren’t available about the Hobby Lobby site. Instead, they told developers to return when more details were available. Developers this week will be back at City Hall, but they still don’t have firm plans for how the special sales tax money would be used at the Hobby Lobby site.
In a letter to commissioners, developer Jim Harpool said he expects any Hobby Lobby project would include stormwater improvements, landscaping, architectural enhancements to the existing building and other site improvements. But he said Hobby Lobby officials aren’t yet ready to commit to any specific plans.
As a result, Harpool is floating a new plan for the special taxing district. He still wants to include the Hobby Lobby site, but he’s willing to allow any special taxes collected by Hobby Lobby to be placed in an escrow account. Money from that escrow account could not be spent until the city has approved specific plans for the Hobby Lobby site.
That potentially puts city commissioners in the position of allowing a business to charge it customers a special sales tax without fully knowing what the sales tax will pay for. City staff members are recommending — if commissioners are interested in proceeding — that the development group restart the application process because the new proposal is different from the original proposal.
• A chance to see the newly renovated Carnegie Library building is coming up. The city will host an open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday to show off the building at 200 W. Ninth St. The space’s main floor space is being rented out by the city’s parks and recreation department for wedding receptions and other similar events. The Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the group that oversees the Freedoms Frontier National Heritage Area are moving their offices into the lower level space of the building next week.