News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: In case you were worried that Lawrence city commissioners wouldn't have any major topics to wring their hands over during the upcoming 2013 budget process, city commissioners were given 30 million of them on Thursday.
City Hall on Thursday afternoon released a new report detailing the need for a new police headquarters facility that would combine the city's force under one roof. The report estimates that a new building ranging in size from about 37,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet will cost nearly $30 million to construct.
Figuring out how the city would finance that major project — about $12 million more than the new library expansion — will be a large part of the city's 2013 budget process, which begins with a study session Tuesday afternoon.
First, though, commissioners will have to determine whether now is the right time to move ahead on the project. The report says the department — which currently is split between its facility near Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive and the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in downtown — has a major need for more space. The report was conducted by Lawrence-based Treanor Architects and Wilson Estes Police Architects.
The report doesn't recommend a site for the new facility. That will be one of the next steps, if city commissioners decide to move forward. But already there is speculation that city officials will take a hard look at locating the facility next to the fire department's headquarters near 19th and Iowa streets.
But first comes the money issue. We'll be checking in with city commissioners about their initial thoughts, and report back to you tomorrow. In the meantime, you can read the entire report, here.
• What’s that rumbling I hear at Lawrence City Hall? Perhaps an army of trash carts is approaching.
There’s a new memo making the rounds with City Hall leaders that presents a plan for how the city could implement a program that requires all households to use a city-issued trash cart instead of the standard old trash cans or bags.
This idea, of course, isn’t new. It was the major recommendation of the city’s Solid Waste Task Force. And it already has drawn quite a reaction, with some people thinking it is the first step to the city operating a more efficient trash service, while others have reacted like the city is requiring them to strap the massive carts on their backs and carry them to the curb each week. (For the record, the carts do have wheels.) In other words, the idea has been mighty unpopular with some.
Perhaps new details will change some people’s minds, or perhaps not. Here’s a look at what staff members currently are proposing when it comes to carts:
— A 65-gallon cart would be the standard size issued to households. City staff members are estimating the 65-gallon cart will meet the trash needs of a typical four-person household, especially if the household recycles some of its trash. Households would be provided the city-owned cart for no additional charge per month.
— A 90-gallon cart will be issued to households that are having a difficult time fitting all their trash into the 65-gallon cart. Households that choose to have the 90-gallon cart instead of the 65-gallon cart would pay a $1 per month fee.
— As previously discussed by the task force, the new trash system would allow households to place bags of trash at the curb, if their cart is full. There would be no extra charge for picking up a bag or two, but the city has indicated it wants such activity to be the exception not the rule. The memo proposes that route drivers and solid waste supervisors keep a log of households that regularly are setting out bags of trash. The memo doesn’t state it, but I suspect that system will be used to approach people who are constantly setting out bags to upgrade to the 90-gallon cart.
— A 35-gallon cart will be offered to households that believe a 65-gallon cart is simply too large. The 35-gallon cart isn’t much larger than a standard trash can, which city officials hope will blunt some concerns that people don’t have room to store these carts. Staff members, however, aren’t recommending that households receive a price break for taking the 35-gallon cart instead of the 65-gallon version.
“As the task force learned from other communities, people tend to underestimate their trash volumes by a significant margin,” the memo states. “Staff cautions against providing a financial incentive to under-size the trash container.”
— The city would provide a program for a limited time to allow residents to recycle their old trash cans. The memo states several trash cart companies will take the old trash cans and recycle the plastic to use in new carts.
— Staff members are estimating that about 7,000 households will see their monthly trash bills go down as a result of the new program. That’s because about 7,000 households currently rent a trash cart from the city. Most rent a 90-gallon cart. They pay the city an extra $2 per month, currently, to rent those 90-gallon carts. The new system would charge $1 per month, so my abacus tells me that would be a savings of $1 per month. If those folks who rent a 90-gallon cart today decide they’ll try to make a 65-gallon work, they’ll save $2 per month. That’s because the city wouldn’t charge a rental fee for the standard 65-gallon cart under the new system. City leaders are optimistic many people would be able to make that switch from a 90-gallon cart to a 65-gallon cart. That’s because, eventually, the city system is expected to have a curbside recycling component to it, which should reduce the amount of trash households are putting in their carts. Details of a potential curbside program, however, aren’t included in this new memo. That’s another can of worms that will produce another memo.
People who currently rent a 65-gallon cart from the city pay an extra $1.50 fee. Under the new system they’ll save that $1.50 a month, if they stick with the standard 65-gallon cart.
This idea that a significant number of households will save money under a new trash system is a point city leaders have been trying to make for quite awhile, but they’ve struggled to do so because they haven’t had the specific details. It will be interesting to see if this new information changes any opinions on a cart system.
But it also is fair to point out any reduction in monthly trash bills may be short-lived. That because if the city does create a new curbside recycling program, it likely will be a mandatory one. That means every household will be required to pay for the recycling service regardless of whether they use it. At that point, trash bills probably will be higher than they are today, but the city would counter that folks are getting a new city service. In addition, I think the city is betting it can provide the curbside recycling program for less than what private providers currently charge. So, for the 5,000 or so households in the city that currently pay a private provider for the service, the city is betting their total trash and recycling bill will go down. But all of that is in the future.
• The memo does state that for 2013, city staff will present a budget that allows the monthly base fee for solid waste to remain steady at $14.94 per month.
• The city is estimating it will need to purchase 23,000 carts at a cost of about $1.13 million. The memo states the city’s has previously set aside about $1.12 million to make upgrades to the city’s trash system.
City leaders previously have said they expect the cart system to pay for itself through fewer workers compensation claims, and reductions in staff as the operation becomes more automated. The city’s preliminary 2013 budget for the solid waste division does call for the elimination of one position in the department. That position currently is vacant.
It is important to remember that all these details are just staff’s recommendation at this point. Eventually, city commissioners will have to vote on all of this. Commissioners haven’t yet scheduled the topic for public debate.
But staff members said if commissioners act soon, the carts could be delivered to homes by late September.
• Guys, if thinking about all those carts and cleaning out the garage to make a space for it hurts your head, maybe you should take a trip to a local jewelry store. Perhaps a purchase at one of those stores can be used to convince somebody else in your household to take care of all that trash stuff. (Or perhaps, like in my household, she’s already figured out she can just drive to the store herself. I used to think it was the thought that counted, then she told me the 14-karat stamp was much more important.)
Regardless, the downtown business Marks Jewelers is planning an expansion. The company has filed plans at City Hall to add about 3,000 square feet of space onto the back of its building at 817 Mass. The expansion will provide additional showroom space and also will add a couple of offices for the company.
The building, in case you have forgotten, has a rear entrance that is set back from the rear property line. The expansion will move the building out to the property line.
The $85,000 project is another sign that business is going well for one of the older jewelry stores in the nation. The company recently purchased the downtown building from its landlord and co-owner Brad Parsons said sales had held up well even with the down economy.
Parsons said the company hopes to have the expansion — which will need approval by the city’s Historic Resources Commission — completed by the fall.