Archive for Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rec center vote

August 9, 2012


To the editor:

The lion’s share of taxpayers, I feel, do not support the rec center project, judging from letters, conversation on the matter and the many Journal-World comments.

Not only that, but the USD 497 school district has spent $20 million or more on a very similar project that is expected to drive economic growth. Why does Lawrence, Kansas, need to spend another $30 million to $40 million and maybe more?

Wouldn’t these tax dollars be better spent on a vocational-technical campus that encourages higher education and job skills and also encourages economic growth? Students are a substantiated wise investment.

Let the voters decide; it’s our money! Yes taxpayers do own the tax dollars in this community. Put this matter on the ballot out of respect for taxpayers.


Bruce Bertsch 5 years, 7 months ago

Last time I checked, this is a republic and not a democracy. You elect the leaders, they spend the tax dollars. The Rec Center is needed and will generate tax revenues.

Getaroom 5 years, 7 months ago

The scope and size of a project of this magnitude is just not workable and is still a dream looking for a reality. This is not "The field of Dreams" where the "users" are going stroll out of a mythical corn field or wheat field. The way it appears, KU Athletics has a dream, and of course it matches the developers desires. "If you build it, they will come" I have a harder time envisioning. There are already competing facilities elsewhere, so robbing from them just to fulfill a dream makes no sense. The money the city will spend on this dream would be better served making sure that decaying existing infrastructure is fixed up to todays/tomorrows standards. It's not sexy and exciting, but it's what needs doing doing now. If this dream turns out to be a great idea, it can be fulfilled later on when and after city attends to what it is responsible for now.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

At first I thought the idea of a vocational-education campus was a great idea. Unfortunately, it is probably not going to be a "build it and they will come" situation, because unfortunately many of these kinds of programs are not gaining students. Some are and some aren't and when I ask educators in these programs they do not know for certain why.

It is always going to be a problem when we rely on tax dollars to spur economic development. You can go to that well too many times. You see examples of this everywhere.

The numbers they throw around just seem to grow bigger and bigger and the portion of your income going to the government is always increasing.

nativeson 5 years, 7 months ago

The issue with this proposal is not about need or opportunity, it is about who should bear the ongoing cost of maintenance. The current proposal puts the City of Lawrence at risk of sinking more and more annual funding into supporting the operation of the complex. The other participates have a fixed obligation over time.

Use of recreation sales tax is definitely appropriate since it was the original intent of the funding. But, I believe it will take more funding from other sources to sustain the operation that the City is agreeing to operate. If the projections related to increamental fees generated from events fall short and/or the operating costs are higher than anticipated, the taxpayers of Lawrence will be on the hook.

I do not hear any of our leaders discussing how this future funding will be secured. The options are a) take it from somewhere else or b) raise the mill levy. Frankly, I am not thrilled with either option.

This is about counting the cost, being transparent and making a decision that citizens understand. I do not see these steps being taken for the benefit of the people who will ultimately pay for the facility.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I have communicated with the commissioners on this issue.

One pointed out that the tax revenue from the TDD isn't the only new revenue they're planning on - they also expect revenue from new spending in town and new property taxes from new construction.

According to my reading, we'll be spending about $1.8 million/yr over 20-30 years. That includes the purchase, operating costs, and new infrastructure costs. It doesn't include maintenance, etc. of infrastructure over time.

The $6 million in new economic activity/yr, if it actually happens, will result in less than $600K in sales tax/yr.

Going with their most optimistic estimate of about $8 million over 20 years for the TDD gets $400K/yr.

That means we're getting about $1 million so far.

In order to make another $800K/yr in property tax revenue, the new construction would have to be valued at astronomical amounts, since property tax is paid on "assessed" not "appraised" value.

And, that would only get us to breaking even for the next 20-30 years, and doesn't include some costs, like maintenance of infrastructure.

werekoala 5 years, 7 months ago

I really hope this project goes to a vote, otherwise, it will show just how broken our local government had become. At a time when core government services (public safety, roads, water, trash, etc.) are in dire need of additional funding, the citizens of Lawrence don't need to spend millions of dollars on behalf of KU and local developers.

Heck, we got to vote on more money for roads, fire trucks, and the empTy, and that was for something much more related to core services, and for one tenth the cost of this boondoggle.

Tell you what, at least let's finish paying off the Eagle Bend fiasco before we start spending more tax dollars to compete with private facilities.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree-- the movers and shakers want this too badly, and have too much to lose if it were to fail, so they won't let this commission put it to a ballot issue.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

If this were put to a vote and 13% of registered voters showed up (a number significantly less that eligible voters), would that really be any more meaningful than letting elected officials make the decision?

6.5% +1 vote yes 6.5% -1 vote no

Not that I'm necessarily opposed to having a vote. I'm just not sure of it's value.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago


13% of 100K is more than 5 - it's 13,000.

Of course, I'd prefer to have more people turn out, but we can't control that. We can, however, put large expenditures like this on a ballot and let people have the chance to vote on them.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Probably the single biggest reason the vast majority of people don't vote in local elections is that they don't feel that the government is there to advance their interests and/or that the actions of local government won't have much effect on their day-to-day lives.

This is reinforced by the growth industries who have much to gain by controlling city government. Low voter turnout makes it much easier for them to stack the commission with people who are either one of them, or who are sympathetic to them.

Once elected, they confirm the beliefs of the non-voters-- they aren't there to serve the interests of the average (non)voter. When the next election comes around, and a majority of the "serious" candidates campaign on maintaining the status quo, the apathy of the majority of potential voters is maintained.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

That seems like a rather lengthy excuse for folks that don't participate.

Even if everything you say is true, people should vote.

Especially in local elections, where we have more of a chance to affect things that will affect us directly.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

It's an explanation, not an excuse.

But just like mindless consumerism, the status quo is good for many vested interests, who put a good deal of effort in maintaining that status quo.

I agree that people should vote, especially in local elections. But how do we break them out of the vicious circle of mind-numbing apathy that keeps them away from the polls?

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I can't answer that question.

We're all responsible for our own participation, or lack thereof, of course, and there's a limited amount that one can affect others' decisions in that regard.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Be careful what you wish for, Jafs. Remember Prop. 13.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

So you think it's better for 5 elected officials, who may be unduly affected by wealthy and powerful interests in Lawrence, to make this sort of decision, than the voters?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I've seen the voters make some pretty poor decisions. As I mentioned, Prop. 13 jumps out, but of course, there are many more. And I've seen our elected officials make some pretty poor decisions. Look at Topeka today.

As I said, if enough people want to have this put to a vote, I'd be fine with that. But if there is not enough support for that, and our elected officials make the decision, I'd be equally fine with that. Or we can flip a coin. But if you really want me to support putting this to a vote, also put on the ballot a referendum that would increase our local sales taxes by 1,000%. Surely it would get defeated, but just as surely it would bring out the vote.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

"But if you really want me to support putting this to a vote, also put on the ballot a referendum that would increase our local sales taxes by 1,000%. Surely it would get defeated, but just as surely it would bring out the vote."

Not a bad idea, really. Not that it'll ever happen-- too many powerful vested interests depend on low voter turnout.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

"Not a bad idea, really" Thank you very much, Bozo. Now allow me to expand. My idea of raising taxes and raising them substantially and doing that for everyone, would have the same effect. People will get hopping mad and they will get out and vote. Who will they be voting for? My guess is that they will vote to reduce expenditures on things they don't want or need. Maybe it will be a rec. center, maybe defense spending. I can guess, you can as well. But we'd all be voting in much greater numbers than we are now. And with that, assuming you trust the electorate, democracy will increase. If you're looking for something to balance (or negate) the corrupting influences of big money, getting out the vote of more and more people is the way to do it. Or violent revolution. I choose the former.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

What does one have to do with the other?

I'd be glad to put both large expenditures and tax increases on the ballot, though.

pizzapete 5 years, 7 months ago

I think we should be thankful this developer is being so generous and is willing to donate the land for this wonderful project. All the city has to do is come up with a ton of money to rent the building he's going to build for us and the university, and after twenty years of paying him off we'll own it. It's almost like the developer is donating his fleet of one hundred Lamborghini's to us and all we have to do is maintain them, insure them, and pay to lease them. Never mind that most of us will never get a chance to drive the Lamborghini's. We can still brag to our friends in the surrounding area that we all own Lamborghini's. Why consider the costs of maintaining the Ford Focuses that fit our current needs and that we've already paid for, when what we really want, I mean what we really need, is to lease a new Lamborghini. I don't care if we can't afford it, don't we all deserve to lease a Lamborghini? Well, now is our chance, vote yes, we want Lamborghini's.

JustNoticed 5 years, 7 months ago

Thoughtful and well reasoned. But you lost me when you misspelled the last word.

pizzapete 5 years, 7 months ago

Sorry for the often sloppy! And thanks.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 7 months ago

It amazes some of us that many in our wonderful city become anal retentive when it comes to projects that actually have a chance to bring business to our city. The voters here don't think twice when it comes to public transportation, library, train depot, and the other projects that have zero chance to at least help pay for themselves, but lord knows we need more concrete 6 foot wide bicycle paths on both sides of the streets. Maybe they should install bong washes at the rest stations.

No we can't afford this project now, just as we can't afford any of the other "Feels good" projects. We have to have tax dollars to support Henderson't drunk tank, which in turn boosts the ridership numbers for the empT and does nothing to solve downtowns problems, just grows it. We also need the funds to support the new Community Theatre which will consume both tax dollars and any income it generates and put nothing into the community.

The schools have their hands out, as does the county and numerous other organizations like the dummies that want to purchase the Train Depot.

All the other projects should be put on hold and build the Rec center. When the support facilities are built around it like the hotels and eateries, then that money could be used to build the other tax sucking places the vocal few desire.

gccs14r 5 years, 7 months ago

If there is a need for a westside rec center, why doesn't private industry build it and charge admission? Privatization is the mantra of the folks on that side of Iowa, so here's a chance for them to live the dream.

The people who use the soon-to-be-torn-out track in Memorial Stadium can use the one at Free State. That's already paid for.

scaramouchepart2 5 years, 7 months ago

It is quite simple. My favorite professor when working on my Masters degree in business taught me two very important ideas. Local governments is the most corrupt and policies have to balance all sides. By not allowing this to be voted on for a bond and using monies from a bond not originally designed or voted for to build this project to avoid a vote the City Commission is sure will fail, the local government supports the first point and ignores the second., which follows the first point. So this project proves my professor's philosophy .

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

If the vote doesn't go the way you want, you'll be whining and moaning and copy/pasting like a wild man on this award-winning website for the next decade. Am I right? (from a source)

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

If I were a sitting commissioners I would demand that voters participate in this process by voting the project up or down. Yes I would be asking taxpayers to participate in more decisions after all it is their bank accounts and tax dollars being put at risk.

This project is risky and stealing business from our neighbors will only encourage them to become more aggressive in securing activity to their investments. This concept is simply not the right path.

Kansas City Metro is taking steps to restore job losses on the Missouri side that Brownback has been stealing away and throwing way too much corporate welfare at this nasty tactic.

Lawrence had visions of stealing tons of retail shoppers from the largest nearby retail markets and now we have have Baur Farms,Tanger Mall,Riverfront Plaza as examples of tax dollars wasted and economic displacement replacing economic growth.

Too many believe Jayhawk basketball will be the big golden lure however that too has failed to materialize. Lawrence,Kansas is a community of about 65,000 when students are gone. A community of 65,000 should not be thinking of competing with the Topeka and Kansas City Metro tax bases. Let's get real.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

I wonder if there could be a petition to force a vote.

Gary Rexroad 5 years, 7 months ago

This project and all its possibilities continue to receive overwhelming positive support at town halls and public forums. Sure there are concerns about costs but if you actually listen to our city experts, there is a very solid plan to assure success.

I am fiscally conservative and look very closely at spending to assure we are living within our means. That is a fundamental of responsible leadership. So too is a responsibility to seize opportunity when presented and that is precisely what the Rec Center represents, a unique and extremely rare opportunity for Lawrence and the whole area. The number of parties coming together to make this project happen is unprecedented and the resulting facility will have few equals in the country.

I for one believe in the rec center. I believe our Commissioners and City Leadership are watching the dollars very closely and I believe their plan is sound. I also believe the majority of Lawrence sees the positive and are excited to have yet another reason to proudly call Lawrence home.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Translation: You disagree with me, so shut up.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

You're the one who thinks elections are pointless, which is akin to telling people to shut up.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Look at my post above and you will see that I question the value of elections when so few vote. I'm not saying elections are pointless. In this case, it's like telling someone to shut up when they haven't said a word. That's pointless. But very different than saying the people shouldn't speak at all. I very much want the people to speak. I've made suggestions as to how we might get more people to speak. You seem to criticize what people say, should they disagree with your point of view. Calling them plutocrats or whatever. Pawns, because they don't see the world as you do. Deviation from your playbook is met with derision.

BTW - Surely you can't have taken this past post as serious. Clearly it was intended to point out that the exact same one line zinger that you threw out isn't of much help when trying to have an open and honest discussion. I even thought you might get a chuckle out of it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

" Calling them plutocrats or whatever. Pawns, because they don't see the world as you do. Deviation from your playbook is met with derision."

Yes, I deride them. Plutocracy is evil, and leads to, at best, barely modified forms of slavery.

In the initial post, the poster very clearly (to me, anyway) objected to a referendum because of the possibility that it wouldn't affirm the course of action he wants. In other words, he was telling people to shut up because they don't agree with him.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

In the initial post, the poster very clearly (to me, anyway) pointed out that we elect representatives to make these types of choices. It's called representative democracy. The rest, you're reading into his post things that may or may not be true.

Maybe it's true that he wants to avoid a referendum that might not agree with his position. Maybe not. For you to infer, one way or the other, simply because he said we out to allow our form of government, a representative democracy, to work as designed, is not a call to keep the public quiet. You've made a huge leap in logic. It might be similar to me suggesting that because you want to bypass representative democracy in this matter, you believe in the violent overthrow of the United States that will then cause the deaths of millions. That's quite a leap. But no less of a leap than you made.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

He also said this,

"The Rec Center is needed and will generate tax revenues."

and from my perspective, that's what motivates his objection to a referendum. Although he's probably for whatever any developer-dominated commission would want, regardless of what the rest of Lawrence might think.

"You've made a huge leap in logic. It might be similar to me suggesting that because you want to bypass representative democracy in this matter, you believe in the violent overthrow of the United States that will then cause the deaths of millions. "

That, my friend, is the huge leap in logic. You're mighty desperate for this early in the day.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Sure it's a leap in logic. But no more than your original post of "shut up". Maybe it would be best if hyperbole be put aside, if it's honest and open discussion that's desired?

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

So far, the numbers don't pan out, even using the estimates given and erring on the generous side.

Predictions of future economic activity are extremely uncertain and unreliable - the TIF on the Arts Center building was supposed to generate a lot more of the parking garage costs than it did.

You cannot possibly "assure", or "guarantee" success of a project like this - it's a gamble.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm thinking that "plutocrat" must have been on the Words for Disappointed Commies calendar this past month.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

I want to have an open mind but I am skeptical about the deals the city makes. They don't seem to know how to negotiate a deal.

werekoala 5 years, 7 months ago


Are those the same "city experts" who assured us that Eagle Bend would pay for itself, that East Hills would be a thriving manufacturing mecca, and that the Riverfront Mall and Tanger Outlet would be bustling shipping centers?

And as for the fact that an "unprecedented number of parties are coming together to make this happen", well, yeah, vultures trend to come together on a fat corpse, too. No surprise a bunch of local big fish are angling for a cut of the action.

And to say that this will be one of the biggest and best centers of its kind in the country does you no favors. This is Lawrence, not NYC. Not a lot of national organizations are going to hold events an hour away from the nearest airport. Just makes it seem like more if a white elephant that is only gonna benefit a very small number if Lawrencians, while the rest if us little people end up stuck with the bill.

So I hope you're getting paid to pay supportive comments like this. Better to be a compensated hack than a sincere dupe, amiright?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

"Better to be a compensated hack than a sincere dupe, amiright?"

Pretty well sums up our whole "democracy," from city hall right up to Congress and the White House.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Anyone who needs it or wants it has access to the library and the bus system. Which makes it completely different from this proposed "Taj Mahal."

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Also, of course, funding for both the T and the library expansion were put to a vote.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Many in Lawrence seem to suffer from some sort of inflated ideas or goals for Lawrence, in my view.

This includes the library expansion folks as well as those who support this project.

Lawrence is a decent small city in KS - that doesn't mean it's a world class city, or would ever be one, or that we should try to make it into one.

Why not make it a sustainable, well functioning small city instead?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

In your lifetime, Lawrence has tripled in size (population). In my lifetime, it's quadrupled. If there was any reason to believe that the size of Lawrence would level off and stay the same, we could focus on maintaining the flavor of this city as a well functioning small city. However, I see no reason to believe Lawrence's population growth will slow. As the cost of education increases, less might be attracted to K.U. But as smaller rural cities lose population, continuing that trend, more might be attracted to Lawrence. However you believe we should be prepared for their arrival, their arrival will happen.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Actually, population growth has slowed, from what I've read.

And, my point stands - there's no reason to adopt ambitious, expensive programs and policies because we think we're something more than we are.

I suspect we'll see quite an exodus as a result of Brownback's policies, especially if the conservatives get control of the Senate this fall. If we could leave now, we would.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Of course, now we're talking long term vs. short term. Do you really think the population of Lawrence or Kansas will be less twenty, thirty years from now? Maybe it will be next semester, but not long term, in my opinion. Things like transit systems, libraries, rec. centers are things we plan for for the long term.

Just out of curiosity, where would you go, if that were an option?

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I have no idea about long term.

That's why I wouldn't "plan" for it one way or the other, because it's too hard to predict. When we've expanded based on projections about increased population, we've often been wrong.

Somewhere in PA, between my family in Philadelphia and my wife's family in Ohio. Probably near a smallish college town similar to Lawrence.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

It's one thing to try to anticipate growth, and prepare for it.

It's an entirely different thing to promote growth, and heavily subsidize the businesses that will profit from it, regardless of the cost to existing residents and taxpayers.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I recall many a day in my youth shooting hoops at the Community Building, even though I didn't pay a cent for the privilege. Taxpayers before me decided to provide that for me. Yup, I want that rec. center to be built, not for me, but I want my grandson to play in a hoops tourney there and I want my granddaughter to play in a volleyball tournament there. I want my grandson's department to host an academic conference of his peers, with those visiting professors staying downtown and spending money in local restaurants. I want those things, even though as yet, I have no grandchildren. Maybe it will be your grandchildren, Bozo or Jafs. But just as someone provided the community building for me, someone needs to provide a rec. center for them.

As for subsidizing businesses, I have no problem with that. I've said many times that as long as independent analysts project a benefit for the city, the fact that others will benefit as well is fine with me.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Not mine - we have no kids, and are extremely unlikely to ever have them, and we'll be moving from here as soon as possible.

If we were building a smallish rec center on the west side of town, equivalent to the other rec centers in town, this would be a different conversation. That's not what this project is - surely you know that?

And, it's a bit misleading to say that somebody else paid for the Community building - current residents pay for upkeep, maintenance, repair, etc. as well as operating costs.

I pay for enough that doesn't benefit me directly, or my descendants, thank you very much - 1/2 of my property taxes go to the school district, for example. There are very few city amenities that I use, like public parks, etc. although I did go to the library often for a number of years.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree with jafs-- if this were merely a matter of meeting current needs, or even meeting the needs created by modest potential growth, then I could support that project.

And from my perspective, most so-called "independent" analysts rarely if ever find against whatever projects they're hired to analyze. I suspect that's because they come at it with the belief, that you share, that pretty much all development is good, by definition.

In the case of the hotel project at 9th and NH, the so-called independent analysis gave absolutely no consideration to the effects on the surrounding neighborhood. Which is precisely the sort of confirmation that city commissioners, who had clearly already made up their minds, were looking for.

average 5 years, 7 months ago

The state of Kansas has grown in recent years by 58/100ths of 1% per year. That is, it could be expected to double in roughly 120 years. Oh, but the actual forward demographic projections are lower than that. It's not certain that the state will ever double from the current population. The US population is likely going to peak and start falling within my lifetime.

Lawrence had many years of well-over-1% growth by the sucking dry the Neodeshas and Washington Countys of Kansas (which have consistently lost population for a century). This is not a long-term plan. Rural Kansas simply doesn't have enough population to suck anymore. Most of the state's population is now in Sedgwick/Johnson/etc Counties, which are in roughly homeostasis with Lawrence (sure, people move here from there, but just as many move there from here).

I think building the rec center trans-SLT as opposed to within the SLT (which would undeniably be more convenient for 99.9% of the actual Lawrence population) is primarily about boosting property values for a bunch of the Usual Suspects who have land over there. But, it's not all malice and avarice. I think at least some of the Usual Suspects truly believe that the main reason Lawrence has stopped growing by 5% per year (10x the state rate) is because we've stopped putting up apartments and strip malls at 5% per year. Now, to me, that's 'cargo cultism'. That's the old 'rain follows the plow' theory. But, I think some of the Usuals really do believe it. Growth for growth's sake was very good for them (for the rest of us... meh), so they'll chase it to the grave.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 7 months ago

Your first mistake was trying to judge public opinion off of JW comments. As I learned from the T vote years ago, this free speech forum is NOT representative of the voting public.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 7 months ago

This is NOT a free speech forum. Posts get yanked all the time.

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