Letters to the Editor

Rec boondoggle?

October 31, 2011


To the editor:

I was very disappointed to read that the City Commission is seriously considering pursuit of a new recreation center in West Lawrence (Journal-World, Oct. 26).

It appears that the Self Foundation’s offer of one-time funding is clouding the commission’s view of reality. Let me offer a reality check: Lawrence is talking about closing schools (which are largely funded with property tax dollars); city service fees and charges continue to go up; the city has reduced its staffing by 16 percent and is woefully behind in addressing badly needed infrastructure repairs (our drinking water intake comes immediately to mind). I also have serious equity concerns about investing this level of funding in West Lawrence wellness when many folks in East Lawrence don’t even have sidewalks!

Does the City know what the indirect or overhead costs of the proposed facility will be? Will the facility truly be self-supporting? Will its useful life exceed the term of financing? Will project revenues be sufficient to service long-term debt?

There are a lot of unanswered questions here. In light of current economic conditions, how on earth can the city justify going further into debt for this sort of extravagant and open-ended expenditure?

If this project offers such a great return on investment — as its boosters assert (many of whom are bankers and developers, mind you) — why not let the private sector do it?

Sure smells like a boondoggle to me.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

Excellent letter. As far as fiscal responsibility is concerned, the Lawrence City Commission has been living in a dream world for some time.

cowboy 6 years, 6 months ago

"No taxation without recreation" is a slogan originating during 2011 that summarized a primary grievance of the west Lawrence residents, which was one of the major causes of the West Lawrence Revolution. In short, many in those neighborhoods believed the lack of direct recreation in the west neighborhoods was an illegal denial of their rights as Lawrencians, and therefore laws taxing the residents (one of the types of laws that affects the majority of individuals directly), and other laws applying only to the neighborhoods, were unconstitutional.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

This is an interesting, and funny, attitude, expressed sometimes by those on here.

When I choose to buy a house, or move to a neighborhood, I base that decision on the neighborhood as it exists at the time.

If I wanted to live near a library, for example, I'd find somewhere to live that was near one.

It would never occur to me to move to a neighborhood, and then demand that the city build facilities nearby for me to use.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 6 months ago

Exactly what I was thinking. The same is true about schools. If I consider moving into a neighborhood that does not have a neighborhood school, I would expect to drive the kids to school.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Of course it is.

See ljwhirled's comments, for one obvious example.

ljwhirled 6 years, 6 months ago

West Lawrence deserves to have some recreation too.

The East side is getting a $18M library addition. Over on the west side, we deserve to have some facilities too.

The Holcolmb park rec center is way too small to accommodate everyone west of Iowa.

We pay taxes, we should have a rec center that is accessible.

Of course, we could use the one on the east side if the SW traffic way was completed. But you try driving from 15th & George Williams to 15th and Haskell. In terms of time, Topeka is closer.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

There's that funny attitude.

If I wanted to live near a rec center, I'd buy a house near one.

The "East side" didn't get a library addition - that addition is downtown. In addition, the project was put to a city-wide vote. If the majority of voters in Lawrence didn't want that project approved, all they had to do was vote against it (I did).

Let's put the westside rec center to a vote, if you want to be fair about it.

I just don't understand the idea that one buys a house in an area without a bunch of facilities, and then demands that the city build libraries, rec centers, etc. in your neighborhood.

I'd never do that.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

They must be related to the folks that live out by the FOP! Move into an area, and then complain about the area.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

"Of course, we could use the one on the east side if the SW traffic way was completed."

Even if it is completed, it's never going to be a sensible route to a rec center on 15th Street.

But it does point out an interesting fact-- by far the surest way to improve traffic flow in this town would be to plow four lanes through the KU campus on 15th street. Sure, it's impractical, and disrespectful to KU, but that wouldn't involve the property of Indians, so it'll never even be considered.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

The point of building SLT is not to only help local drivers; it's to help regional commuters and transportation companies as well.

Building a road through KU's campus on 15th, while being more convenient, would only help those needing to stay in Lawrence. No one attempting to commute around Lawrence would go that way. They really cannot be compared.

This isn't the time to build the rec center, just as it's not the time to build the library. Our commissioners need to understand balancing a budget, and spend what you have. It's all common-sense, and it seems like no one running City Hall has any.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

"The point of building SLT is not to only help local drivers; it's to help regional commuters and transportation companies as well."

No, the primary purpose of the SLT is to promote further sprawl.

And because of the resistance to its construction thru the Haskell Wetlands, it's gained an additional purpose-- make the world safe for highway building by demonstrating that resistance to pavement is futile.

Regardless, a completed SLT would not make getting to the rec center on 15th St. in E. Lawrence any quicker or easier, which is what ljwhirled asserted.

Getaroom 6 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the letter and many excellent points have been brought to light! I new westside Rec center is a great idea for another time frame and that includes the offer from the Self Foundation. If the Self Foundation is truly interested in supporting a home town initiative then the offer should not be limited to a more immediate build project and for all the reasons mentioned in todays letter. Most of us understand that KU Athletics(mainly basketball) gets it's way because it brings in high levels of revenue, but neither the Self Foundation, or KU should be forcing anything down the throats of the city and certainly not when it is forcing an issue on an already stretched budget. As for cato's post; there have been many commissioners on the council and made up of varied political persuasions over many years and the "living in a dream world" comment is unnecessary. Whenever a vote has been put on the ballot and the voting citizens have spoken, then why blame the entire group of commissioners? The final say rests with the voters. I do not believe that many votes would be cast in favor of a new Rec center even by voters with whom you normally find disagreement cato, which of course seems to be primarily "Liberal" voters. If it were not for the balance that varying opinions brings to bear on community issues chances are this town would look just like a Johnson county clone and so if that would be the case perhaps you would prefer that scenario? Are you ranging in that elite 1% cato?

Bassetlover 6 years, 6 months ago

Great to see you writing about something different other than the police department!

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 6 months ago

I wonder if she would be complaining if the rec center was being built in East Lawrence. Her letter suggests not and my guess is that is her real complaint.

ljwhirled 6 years, 6 months ago

East Lawrence already has a rec center.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

And the residences in E. Lawrence have been there many, many decades, paying taxes the whole time, which is what funded the rec centers there.

And that's the problem with sprawl-- it isn't required to pay for itself, and thus requires older neighborhoods to subsidize all the amenities those folks left behind for their shiny new neighborhoods.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 6 months ago

Using your logic, wouldn't anyone other than the citizens present when Lawrence was established be considered part of the sprawl problem? No doubt one could use similar arguments 100 years ago to complain about any growth outside of a very central core within Lawrence. Other areas, after all, likely did not pay 100% of the cost of expansion. So where does the line between the good parts of the city and sprawl begin?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

It's pretty simple, really. When developers want to plow up virgin land to build entire new communities (which is essentially what W. Lawrence is) they should be required to also finance the construction of all the amenities and infrastructure those areas will need.

Obviously, that will be passed on to the purchasers of these homes, but it would at least make the purchase of those houses a decision made on real market conditions. Do they want to live in the new neighborhood, with all the true expenses involved in creating it (usually at somewhat of a premium?) Or do they want to buy a house in an older neighborhood that already has those things in place?

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 6 months ago

Again my question is where and at what point in a city's life is growth considered sprawl? Much of east Lawrence would have been considered sprawl at the turn of the last century. Further, if these areas are required to fund their own amenities then shouldn't other areas be forced to fund things in their area? For example, why not allow west Lawrence to opt out on the new library in favor of their own library closer to home? Why not just divide Lawrence into east and west and allow taxes to stay in the areas in which they originated? That seems to be what you are suggesting.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

It isn't an easy, black-and-white issue. But it also isn't rocket science that greenfield development necessarily requires rather substantial investments in new infrastructure, and the need for expanded services (fire, police protection, trash, water, sewer, schools, roads, etc.)

The costs of creating all that new infrastructure and delivery of services should fall primarily on developers, which, would be passed on to those purchasing the homes and establishing businesses in those areas. Dumping those costs on existing neighborhoods and businesses is clearly an unfair subsidies to the developers who can essentially externalize a major cost of their doing business.

kernal 6 years, 6 months ago

Read this story a second time after reading "guess that is her real complaint" and can't say that I agree. She makes some good points overall.

ljwhirled 6 years, 6 months ago

Money is always tight. No government is going to have a "fat" year and have money lying around un-allocated.

The City of Lawrence needs to be fair when locating recreational facilities. The west side of the community needs recreation as much as the east side.

Recreation is an important part of a balanced community, and west Lawrence has long been under served in this regard. The west side has very few parks relative to the east side. A recreation center is long overdue.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Why didn't the developers who created W. Lawrence sprawl set aside some money for a rec center, if it's so necessary? Raising $15 million wouldn't have been all that much of a stretch, if they had wanted to, but they prefer taxpayer-subsized profits.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

So take Self's $1 million, match it with another $million in private dollars (the developers who want this to elevate the value of their investments would be prime targets,) and $1 million in public funds, and do whatever is possible with $3 million. When funds truly become available, the facility can be expanded, if necessary.

somedude20 6 years, 6 months ago

Isn't the 19 million dollar library enough or a recreation center?

Ann Hamil 6 years, 6 months ago

It takes me 20 minutes to drive to the indoor pool located in W. Lawrence even at 5 in the morning, so by the logic of some posters here I should demand a new indoor pool on the far east side. Yes the recreation options on the west side ARE unfair, the west side is advantaged by a beautiful indoor pool facility.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

You kind of missed his point.

If equity is what's desired, then west Lawrence should get facilities equivalent to other parts of the city, not greatly expanded and much better ones.

Put it to a vote, just as the library expansion was voted on - if the majority of voters didn't want that, all they had to to was show up and vote against it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

So why not just build something comparable to the E. Lawrence facility in W. Lawrence, and then expand Holcomb? It's the most centralized location in town.

And when is E. Lawrence going to get its own indoor swimming pool?

Hudson Luce 6 years, 6 months ago

How about this: West Lawrence becomes its own city, separate and independent from Old West, North, East, and South Lawrence? Make Kasold the dividing line - anything west is West Lawrence, anything east is Lawrence. West Lawrence could become the new Overland Park, sprawling all the way to Topeka.

homechanger 6 years, 6 months ago

Ha ha. Our west lawrence property taxes pay most of the bills. Our houses are worth more so we pay quite a bit more in property taxes. If your plan goes into effect who will pay the bills in old lawrence?

George Lippencott 6 years, 6 months ago

Could we be approaching the definition of crony-capitalism?? Put it one the ballot and see what the populace thinks?

57chevy 6 years, 6 months ago

It seems as though we all want the government to take care of US just not THEM. Here we are in brutal financial times: The state is gutting its workforce; local industry has contracted, unemployment is rampant. So now is a good time to throw millions of dollars at a rec center? How about we educate the little devils first, then get them ready for college sports. I'll support the West Lawrence rec center the day after they build a new elementry school in East Lawrence. As an aside, most of KU's best athletes come from tough, inner city neighborhoods. They play basketball on asphalt lots outdoors with no net, just a hoop. It turns out that playing indoors with heat and a coach doesn't seem to pay off anyway.

nativeson 6 years, 6 months ago

The primary issue is being missed in this letter. Lawrence passes a sales tax for recreation in 1994. It was the funding for the Indoor Aquatic Center that have bonds being retired in the next few years. This sales tax was not intended to be spent on other priorities.

If the Commission does not want to consider the rec center, they should repeal the sales tax or find another worthly recreation project.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 6 months ago

There was no sunset established on the tax. The city may be counting on it for future projects.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 6 months ago

All we do is prepare kids for sports. What about teaching them to think or to act in plays or become artists or musicians? Is sports complex so important that we forget adults and kids who want a chance to experience an artistic type of recreation? Let's build a children's theatre or a music practice hall instead of a rec center as we have enough of them and none of the other.

ljwhirled 6 years, 6 months ago

2/3 of our population is overweight. That is not too much preparation for sports. Our kids don't get enough sports.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 6 months ago

There is a questionable precedent being set on accepting targeted donations. There was a unaminous donation to enhance Free State's sports complex. Then the school board felt that they had to balance the donation by doing something fot the LHS sports complex.

The city is considering a targeted donation for the rec center eliciting the east-west comments above.

These are two separate entities - schools and city hall, but the problem is the same. Significant and targeted donations should not be accepted. This should be a policy, because these donations cause inequities. The donations are generous. The donations are also tax deductions and probably will be used by the donor.

Jimo 6 years, 6 months ago

You hardly have to be a laissez faire zealot to grasp that if there is demand and the money to satisfy that demand then the supply will create itself.

Rather, what we have here is a situation where everyone will pay but only some will use. This--for those who use--will create something for nothing, that is, more out than they've put in. This can only be sustained if many pay in but never take much (if anything) out.

Rather, take Self's $1M and send out vouchers to the young, the needy, and the poor who can't easily pay their own way ..... and let everyone else fund themselves.

This proposal is just the silly (and money losing) City golf course all over again.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 6 months ago

Its all good Laura, we have an empT bus system, new library, new bus maintenance facility, new community theatre, have the money to fund the SRS, and a new homeless shelter. Bert Nash can spend 850K on new property that is in a different account, while sticking the other hand out to the taxpayer. All this is going on while our children are walking to school, and property taxes to fund all this crap is going up. I'll bet you did not have any problem voting for the money pits listed above, but when something that does not benefit your personal beliefs comes about, you hollar like a stuck pig. Must be tough being you?

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