Archive for Friday, October 14, 2011

Town Talk: ‘Sneaky taxes’ soon may come with a sign; signs of a rebound at 19th and Haskell; new furniture store and rumors of an East Lawrence doctor’s office

October 14, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• If you want to charge a special sales tax in Lawrence, you’re going to have to prove you’re pretty special, and you’re going to have to agree to post a fairly blunt sign. That’s the nutshell summary of changes that the city commission will consider making to its policy that governs when a development can charge a special sales tax through a Community Improvement District. The CIDs became the hot issue during the last campaign, as top-vote winner Bob Schumm struck a chord with voters by labeling them sneaky taxes. Well, these proposed changes attempt to address some of those concerns. Here’s a look at what’s on the table.

  1. Any establishment that charges a special sales tax would be required to “prominently” display a sign at each public entrance that reads “Community Improvement District sales tax of X percent collected here.” The sign must be at least 8.5 inches by 11 inches in size. The sign requirement also will apply to Transportation Development Districts, which are a different type of special taxing districts. Of the two special taxing districts that currently exist in Lawrence — the Bauer Farm development at Sixth and Wakarusa and The Oread hotel near KU — both are TDDs. The city originally believed it could make this sign requirement retroactive and require both of those developments to post the signs. But now the city’s legal staff advises the city does not have the authority to do that. The developments, however, could voluntarily choose to post the signs, city staff notes. Schumm previously had proposed that developments that charge the tax have some sort of sign that is visible from the road, so shoppers don’t find out about the tax after they already have walked all the way to the front door of a business. But city staff members are recommending against that idea. They say it would detract from the city’s sign code, which places a strong emphasis on “minimizing exterior sign clutter.”
  2. Applicants who want a special tax will have to provide the city with a “but for” analysis that shows the development could not proceed but for the help of a special tax. That analysis will have to include some detailed financial data that would give the city’s economic development planner enough information to make a judgment about whether a bank would be likely to make a loan for the project absent the special taxing authority.
  3. The policy still contains broad language that says any development wanting to use a CID must show it is unique or that it captures new sales or that it promotes tourism or that it adds exceptional infrastructure to the city. It is the type of language that attorneys get paid by the hour to argue over. But what’s different is that under the old policy the applicant must prove it meets at least one of the criteria. Now, it must prove it meets at least three of the four criteria.

Commissioners will consider making the changes at their Tuesday evening meeting. It will be interesting to watch in the coming months if this new policy changes the environment around special taxing districts. Right now, I get the feeling that any special taxing district request — whether it be for an Olive Garden, whether it be for a Lowe’s, whether it be for something else we don’t know of — is political poison with at least the majority of commissioners at City Hall. Maybe signs that alerts shoppers to what they’re paying will soften that. Maybe it won’t. I suspect we will get to find out. I think we will see some requests in the future. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something requested with the proposed hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

• One area that doesn’t have a special taxing district, but is seeing new development anyway is the shopping center at 19th and Haskell. Over the last several months, we’ve reported several new businesses opening up in the center (a production center for veggie burgers, a catering business and something called A Very Serious Comedy Office, and yes, I’m still trying to figure out what that is. I think it is a place where area comedy writers get together and work on and test new material.) Now, add a furniture store to the list.

Savers Outlet Furniture has opened up at 1910 Haskell. Owner Bobby Lane for a short time operated the business in space at Sixth and Michigan Streets next to the Conoco gas station. But he moved into his new space to expand the size of the operation. The business sells both new and used furniture. Lane said he definitely has a strong emphasis on the college market, but really is trying to appeal to anybody who is on a budget.

“If you have a lot of money and want to spend $5,000 for a couch, we’re not the place for you,” Lane said. “We can do a whole house of furniture for $3,000.”’

(Or you could just be like my wife. If she found out she couldn’t spend $5,000 on a couch, she wouldn’t leave. She would just buy five of them. She’s a problem-solver that way.)

The business is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment on Sunday.

• File this information away in the category of it might be worth what you’re paying for it. But I hear that the 19th and Haskell shopping center may become the home of a health clinic/doctor’s office. At least that’s the information that is floating around the center. It may make sense. I’m trying to think of how many doctor’s offices are located east of Massachusetts Street. Plus, I think all types of businesses may be looking at the center a little differently now that it has become the hub for the K-10 commuter bus that travels from Lawrence to Johnson County each weekday. That bus seems very popular. When I drove the parking lot of the center one recent morning, there were nearly five full rows of cars, and a large number of people waiting on the sidewalk for the bus to arrive. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more about a new East Lawrence doctor’s office.

• One last note for the 19th and Haskell area. There is one other new sign in the shopping center. It reads “El Perro or The Dog.” No, it is not a Mexican veterinarian. It is the old Crosstown Tavern. That’s right, your chance for adventure at the Crosstown Tavern has come and gone. (Don’t worry, I’m sure some of you have a permanent record of your adventures there.) A former Marine, Mike Hernandez, has bought the business from the previous owners, I was told by the bar’s manager. But the business’ basic concept remains the same. It will operate as a neighborhood tavern, although it is doing a little bit of food. It has started a taco night on Fridays.


guess_again 6 years, 8 months ago

El Perro = bring your own leopard jacket

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago


The current city commission is more "progressive" than the last one.

And, it's the one with the ideas you praise.

Keith 6 years, 8 months ago

This sneaking of which you speak is called voting, and is one of the cornerstones of our republic. Why do you hate America?

kshiker 6 years, 8 months ago

There is absolutely no unfair advantage. In return for charging its own customers an extra 1% sales tax, which the customers agree to pay by patronizing the establishment, the property owner gets the right to use those proceeds to make improvements to the property. When you go by a burrito at Taco Bell, you pay an extra penny. What a travesty! Someone call the police.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

Taxes are public items, to be used for public purposes.

If a business wants to charge a little extra, and spend the proceeds on private improvements, that's fine.

kshiker 6 years, 8 months ago

Why do my property tax dollars subsidize non-profit organizations operating in the city? Where is the outrage over this practice?

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

I don't understand your point.

Non-profit groups may in fact be operating in the public interest, and therefore it may make sense to use public funds to help them.

What particular groups are you upset about?

kshiker 6 years, 8 months ago

Who defines the public interest and what is the public interest? I am not particularly upset about any non-profit groups and see no problem with transferring property tax dollars for their use. The point is that government at all levels routinely allows for the transfer of public resources to support private uses.

I love Orange Leaf Yogurt. I am aware of the 1% sales tax added for the TDD. I do not care. Why should I be prohibited from voting with my feet and continuing to frequent this establishment?

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

That's a very good question, and it's one without an easy answer - I would be glad if we were having an in-depth discussion about that, without all of the name-calling and partisan nonsense that passes for political debate right now.

If government does in fact do that, I think it's a mistake, and we should stop doing it. And, at the very least, have the above-mentioned conversation first.

Well, as I said, I prefer for private and public to be separated - if a business wants a little more income, they can easily raise their prices, which will be immediately noticeable and clear to any potential customers.

And, many people may not be aware of these extra "taxes", especially if they're not notified with a prominent sign at the entrance - many businesses don't even show the tax rate charged on receipts.

I'd rather not have them at all, but if we're going to have them, customers should be made very aware of them, so they can make an informed decision.

ignatius_j_reilly 6 years, 8 months ago

This may not be the time or place for this comment, but Crosstown Tavern never tips for delivery. Back in the day, some guy claiming to be the owner gave me an excuse every single time -- maybe around 10 times -- as to why they weren't tipping. Here's the deal: if you're in the tipping business, you tip.

I'm normally not what you'd call a "hater," but I'd love to see them close up permanently.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

"Schumm previously had proposed that developments that charge the tax have some sort of sign that is visible from the road, so shoppers don’t find out about the tax after they already have walked all the way to the front door of a business. But city staff members are recommending against that idea. They say it would detract from the city’s sign code, which places a strong emphasis on “minimizing exterior sign clutter.”

Let's talk ethics and transparency over any ordinance!

Let's the make the decision retroactive and challenge any law on the books.

Consider boycotting Baur Farm for lack of ethics!

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

I believe that it is in fact illegal to draft retroactive laws.

Bob Forer 6 years, 8 months ago

Requiring the posting of a sign would not be retroactive, unless when approved, the TIFF explicitly provided that no notice to the public would be required.

kshiker 6 years, 8 months ago

Merrill -- Your bike cannot make it all the way out to Bauer Farms anyway. Please continue your boycott of one. I will continue enjoying my Orange Leaf Yogurt and Taco Bell in the meantime.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

David Cay Johnston, who recently retired from the New York Times after a long career covering the beat of taxes, tax evasion, and the IRS, provided a brisk tour through some of the themes in his new book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). The talk was sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. While understanding the mechanics of taxation can be hard even for experts, Johnston says that the basic concepts and principles are easy to understand—and that despite that, the media has done a very poor job of helping people understand them.

David Cay Johnston then boggled the crowd with a blunt assertion: "We pay billions of dollars in taxes that never get to the government." Much of the sales tax we pay at big box stores and shopping centers is diverted to the large companies that own the stores. It's just one of the many swindles these chains have learned to perpetrate against city and county governments. This is so effective that the Cabela family, which owns a chain of big-box sporting goods stores, receives 137% of its profits from taxpayer subsidies. If they couldn't work this scam, they wouldn't be in business at all.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 8 months ago

Golly, merrill, it's been days and days since you last posted this drivel. Are you also getting tired of seeing it on this award-winning website?

irvan moore 6 years, 8 months ago

my favorite out there was blues brews and bar b que

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

"The city originally believed it could make this sign requirement retroactive and require both of those developments to post the signs. But now the city’s legal staff advises the city does not have the authority to do that."

That may be true. But it's possible that legislative action in Topeka will be taken, in which case it certainly will be retroactive.

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