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Archive for Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Town Talk: UPDATE: City seeking to buy Salvation Army building; Minsky’s opens downtown; city proposing 4 percent hike in water, sewer rates; city estimates $2.4 M needed for rec center infrastructure

June 13, 2012, 11:07 a.m. Updated June 13, 2012, 2:45 p.m.

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News and notes from around town:

UPDATE II: The Lawrence Arts Center is looking to create a new outdoor gallery, exhibition and performance space, and is seeking a little more than $1 million in city funding to make the project happen.

That's the gist of what city officials announced today at a brief gathering at the Lawrence Arts Center. Here are the key points of the proposal:

— The city is close to finalizing a "right of first refusal" that would put the city in position to purchase the Salvation Army building at 946 N.H. A deal hasn't yet been struck, but the city believes it can purchase the site for about $1 million. But the deal is contingent upon the Salvation Army raising enough money to move its operations to a site it purchased years ago along Haskell Avenue between 15th and 19th streets. Salvation Army officials weren't at the city's announcement, but Mayor Bob Schumm said his understanding is the Salvation Army will need to raise about $4 million. Schumm stressed the new Salvation Army facility would not include a traditional homeless shelter, but it likely would include some transitional housing for folks exiting homelessness.

— Once purchased, the Salvation Army building would be razed and the site would become greenspace. The adjacent Lawrence Arts Center could then use the approximately 18,000-square-foot site to host outdoor art exhibits, films, children's programming and other community events.

— Eventually, the Lawrence Arts Center would undertake a $3 million campaign to build a small building on the site and provide other amenities. But the site still would remain largely open.

— It appears, however, the entire deal is contingent upon two other large downtown projects winning city approval. One is the proposed multi-story hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The second is a multi-story apartment and office building proposed for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The two projects — both are proposed by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — would play key roles in funding the $1 million acquisition.

Schumm said the city is proposing to create a new tax increment financing district that would encompass those two buildings. The TIF district would capture property and sales tax revenue generated from the projects and place it in a special fund. The fund would be used to pay for a host of site improvements, including the $1 million purchase of the building.

The TIF, however, would fund much more than that. As proposed, the TIF would fund private parking garages for both the hotel and the apartment buildings. The TIF money also likely would fund some smaller infrastructure improvements related to the projects, Schumm said.

— Timing of the entire Arts Center project is a bit uncertain. Schumm estimated it would likely take a couple of years at a minimum, given that the Salvation Army will need time to conduct its own fundraising. Work on the two major buildings, however, is expected to progress much faster. The city is expected to hear an appeal at is June 26 meeting of the Historic Resources Commission's rejection of the design of the proposed hotel/retail building.

UPDATE: City officials, it appears, are poised to announce they are working toward purchasing the Salvation Army building at 946 N.H. Sources tell the Journal-World the purchase ultimately will facilitate an expansion of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Other details about the project weren't immediately available, including plans for the Salvation Army in Lawrence. Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me the city soon will make an announcement about the Salvation Army building. He said it was a bit more complicated than the city simply buying the building, but that would be "the long-term effect." We'll report more details when we get them.

• I’ve been getting lots of questions in the last few weeks about the status of plans for Minsky’s pizza to open in Downtown Lawrence. Well, I can report it is now open.

The longtime Kansas City pizzeria opened its doors last night. If you remember, the restaurant took over the former Pizza Hut location at 934 Mass.

Look for the restaurant to make a bigger splash in the next couple of weeks when it has a formal grand opening. I’ll also be keeping my eyes open for the evolution of the place. Co-owner Kenny Kantner told me the restaurant is exploring plans to offer a Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast menu with — get this — a Bloody Mary bar. My understanding is the restaurant would dole out the appropriate amount of alcohol and then patrons would finish concocting the drink themselves. (Let the celery vs. pickle debate begin.)

The restaurant also has filed an application at City Hall to add sidewalk dining to its location. Expect that to be in place by the time students return to town.

But in the meantime, the restaurant will work to get locals familiar with the pizzeria’s style. The menu includes more than 15 specialty pizzas, ranging from Spicy Thai to Pollo Patate di Petto (Try saying that after going through the Bloody Mary bar.)

The menu also includes several pasta dishes, hot sandwiches, a gluten-free menu and a multitude of salads including a Mediterranean one called Tabbouleh. (Fortunately, I’ll never have to figure out how to pronounce that because as I’ve told my doctor many times, a Bloody Mary is just a salad in a glass.)

• I previously reported Lawrence residents should prepare for an increase in water and sewer rates. Now, there is a new report out that gives a clue about how large those increases may be.

The city’s water and wastewater plan is recommending a 4 percent increase for both water and sewer rates in 2013. The city is couching this as an increase that will amount to about an extra $3 per year for the average residential customer. But, of course, the amount of water people use varies greatly, so if you water your lawn much, I would suspect your bill will go up more than $3 for a year.

Staff members note several other area communities are contemplating even larger rate increases. Manhattan, for example, is contemplating a 15 percent sewer rate increase and a 7 percent water rate increase.

The water and wastewater master plans, though, don’t just deal with rates. Perhaps the biggest news out of the plan is a major shift in direction on the long-talked about sewer treatment plant proposed for south of the Wakarusa River.

In 2007, a city was planning for a new sewer treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River that could treat 7 million gallons of sewage per day. The plant in 2007 was estimated to cost $88 million. It was expected to allow the city to grow to 150,000 in population.

The city started down the road on this project, buying several hundred acres just south of where O’Connell Road dead ends at the Wakarusa River. But at about that time, the economy began to slow and the U.S. Census Bureau kept producing estimates showing the city’s population was not growing nearly as fast as it used to.

Well, the new wastewater master plan seems to take notice of the changing conditions. The new plan recommends a much smaller treatment plant — one that could treat 2 million gallons of sewage a day. It would cost $54.7 million in 2012 dollars. Importantly, the consultants are now recommending the city only needs a plant to serve a population of 120,000 people, which they think won’t be reached until 2030. The study says the new plant should be operational by 2018.

It will be interesting to see how city commissioners react to this. On the one hand, some commissioners still may be wary about committing to a more than $50 million project during this economy. After all, if commissioners would have followed the advice of the last master plan, it seems clear they would have made a colossal mistake that would have saddled city ratepayers with large bills for years to come. (Note: The engineering firm that prepared this master plan is different from the one that prepared the last one.)

On the other hand, I wonder if some commissioners will be reluctant to admit just how much Lawrence’s growth prospects have declined. To now say that Lawrence’s growth potential has shrunk by 30,000 people in just a few years may be tough for some city leaders to accept.

But based on the Census data, some could argue the city is still being overly optimistic about population growth. According to the 2010 Census, the city had 87,643 people in 2010. For the decade of the 2000s — a pretty good decade for the economy, all in all — the city grew by 9.4 percent, or an average of 0.94 percent per year.

If you assume the city can maintain that same level of growth for the next two decades, the city will have a population of about 105,000 people — not 125,000 people. If the city builds a $54 million sewer plant and has 20,000 fewer people to help pay for it than they expected, that probably will create some unpleasant rate discussions.

There may be no tougher job at City Hall than trying to figure out when to build a new sewer plant. It is a job where a crystal ball would be mighty handy. Do you assume Lawrence will grow faster than it has over the last decade? Do you assume that the greatest recession since the Great Depression will slow growth for years to come? They’re big questions. But if city commissioners decide to move forward with a $54 million sewer plant, that seemingly would be the biggest bet yet that Lawrence soon will regain its mojo.

• A new regional sports complex in northwest Lawrence is one of the projects city leaders believe can recapture that mojo. (Pardon me, I’ve apparently turned into Austin Powers.) Well, the city’s water and wastewater master plans start to answer some questions about that facility too.

In particular, the plans provide some estimates on how much it will cost the city to extend water and sewer service to the proposed site at the northwest corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The plan estimates it will cost $1.4 million to extend water service to the site and $988,000 to extend sewer service to the site.

The current proposal calls for the city to accept a 50-acre donation of land from a development group led by Duane and Steve Schwada. As part of that donation, the city would agree to pay for the water and sewer extension to the site. The city also would agree to extend roads to the site. By extending the water and sewer to the 50-acre site, however, that also would bring service to approximately 100 other acres that are still owned by the Schwadas and are proposed for commercial development once the recreation complex is established.

I talked with City Manager David Corliss, and he said cost estimates are still subject to change. The entire project still seems to be fluid, but I expect city commissioners to start having some serious public discussions about the project in the next few weeks.

Comments

Ira Rott 2 years, 1 month ago

Just went by there, Minsky's is only open for dinner hours for the time being (open at 4PM). They didn't give me a time frame when that would change.

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hipper_than_hip 2 years, 1 month ago

What a deal for Schwada! They trade 50 acres of pasture for $2.4M in water & sewer that will serve their 100 acres of commerical that adjacent to it. That puts the value of the donated 50 acres at $48k/acre which seems steep for property in that area. Plus they get free roads to serve their 100 acres of commercial. Figure $500k for the roads, and this pushes the value of the donation to around $60k/acre.

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1southernjayhawk 2 years, 1 month ago

Well, hip, what is the value of comparable land in that area and what do recent sales indicate as a value? And how much road will be built to serve their land and at what cost savings to them? That's what I thought.

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bornherelongago 2 years, 1 month ago

That's pretty cheap for "commercial" ground. If you use your $60k number, that's $1.37/sf. They'll sell commercial lots for $10/sf and up.

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gccs14r 2 years, 1 month ago

So then the Schwadas should be able to afford their own water and sewer extensions.

How about we fix our existing infrastructure (water intake pipe on the Kaw, anyone?) before we add new things that will need maintenance?

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repaste 2 years, 1 month ago

The donated land is in a ravine, he got an increase in sq footage commercial zoning, in addition to infrastructure and utilities, and an expedited development time table. He might try to claim a tax deduction, case law would say that might not fly.

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Hooligan_016 2 years, 1 month ago

Minsky's sounds like a much better fit for downtown rather than Pizza Hut!

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Rich Noever 2 years, 1 month ago

Why is it a better fit? They both are chains. I know Minsky's is smaller but it still is a chain restaurant.

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pace 2 years, 1 month ago

Pizza hut was tired. Needed a new ceo, they are blowing their equity. Guys shoudn't have moved their home from Topeka.

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Eride 2 years, 1 month ago

I am not sure what pace meant by Topeka. Pizza Hut was founded and had its Headquarters in Wichita, not Topeka. Topeka was the location of the first Pizza Hut franchise though... so maybe that is what pace meant?

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

What's the cause of the much higher than inflation increase in sewer and water rates?

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

ah, another of Cromwell's achievements

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Acey 2 years, 1 month ago

Come ON, Chad. You can Google!

"Tabbouleh (Arabic: تبولة‎ tabūlah; also tabouleh or tab(b)ouli) is a Levantine Arab salad traditionally made of bulgur [whole wheat, coarselyground], tomato, and finely chopped parsley and mint, often including onion and garlic, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt."

It is delicious!

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2 years, 1 month ago

I didn't say I didn't know what it was. I just don't how to pronounce it. Although, I have to admit, the only reason I know what it is, is because it had a description on the menu. Thanks, Chad

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

nah, it's because they have to remove the bear poo

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

but good news! Cromwell has plan to use the bear poo and algae to generate electricity

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 1 month ago

The new water treatment plant should be paid for by the real estate industry. No one else needs it.

Why the increase in rates? in addition to other increases of recent times? How much have these rates increased over the past 20 years?

The 50 acre donation is only 25 acres of usable property. This project will pull business away not only from downtown but also from 6th west of Kasold to beyond Wakrusa. Economic Displacement is unfriendly to current business and taxpayers.

Why not pick a site with infrastructure in place and save taxpayers millions of $$$$?

Simply because real estate development has slowed to a snails pace is no reason to bail out the Schwadas.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

downtown is an entertainment district. It's no more deserving of special protection than any other part of Lawrence.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

the only reason downtown is 'special' is because of interference and regulation by the city that creates artificially high property values and rents. Which coincidentally make it Infeasible for anything other than liquor serving businesses to survive.

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pace 2 years, 1 month ago

Hey, there are loads of towns with dead downtowns, Maybe you should move to topeka. It is a economic loss and social loss to a community to trade a vibrant downtown for a quick buck and short term developers dream. Downtown is an infrastructure worth protecting.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

Don't get me wrong, downtown is great for tourists that want to party. I used to go shopping on Mass, 15 years ago when there were actual stores. You know, there's this other place called Manhattan that managed to keep its downtown, a separate party area and have a shopping mall. All at the same time. Amazing.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

I suppose you could move to Manhattan if you like it better than Lawrence.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

or we could work on making Lawrence a better place to live.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

If you like.

Seems to me that you're pretty frustrated with many things in Lawrence, and have been for a while, based on your posts.

How is the "improvement" project going for you?

Many people who live in Lawrence probably do so because they like it better here than in other communities, like Manhattan, Ottawa, etc.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

quite the opposite. I love Lawrence. However, I don't like being lied to and I don't like corruption. I also like good jobs and a strong local economy. No place is perfect.

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Scott Morgan 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree, been my all time bar none favorite for decades.

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irvan moore 2 years, 1 month ago

if the city buys out the salvation army it will create a need for even more money for the homeless shelter

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 1 month ago

A few years of asking city commissions to perform a Cost of Community Services study fell on deaf ears. The reason concerned citizens were requesting such is because such would have provided data on which growth is paying back and which is not. After which our community could have developed direction that was in the best interest of all citizens aka the community.

Remember refusing a Cost of Community Service Study has taken place under the guidance of our Chamber of Commerce/real estate community who have had absolute control for more than least two decades of the city and planning commissions.

Grab your Wallets! Developers and cars are very expensive budget items.

Lawrence should adopt a policy of "cooling off" the pace of development. This is not a moratoriam. How about a conscious effort to redirect growth to existing city resources and retail districts = fiscally responsible to taxpayers and friendly to existing business?

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LadyJ 2 years, 1 month ago

But, but....you'll get 50 cents off your bill for you trash can.

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somedude20 2 years, 1 month ago

Oh City Of Lawrence, it takes some beach balls to raise the water rates while you are delivering a sub-par (and potentially harmful), product yet getting paid as if it were Cristal.

Lets put it this way, Burrito King isn't going to charge Hereford House prices while their product tastes like Burrito King.

Yes, Minsky's...lookin forward as I have see your commercials for 10 years but have never eaten it. Also, PaPa K's pizza is WORLDS WORLDS WORLDS better, also like it was a decade ago, check em out

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to see some evidence that Lawrence water rates are "Cristal" levels.

The combined bill from the city includes water, trash, wastewater, and sewer rates, including the pickup of yard waste by the city for most of the year.

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somedude20 2 years, 1 month ago

Many places in the US charge like that, jafs. I don't know who many places you have lived, (Law is 6th for me) but the are among the highest of all

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

Evidence?

Comparable services at vastly lower rates where exactly?

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

And, not that it matters, but I've lived in a lot of different places as well.

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irvan moore 2 years, 1 month ago

papa kenos product went to heck after new owners took over

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somedude20 2 years, 1 month ago

IMHO I thought they were spit from 2008 until the new people took over. The pizza is SO much better now, reminds me of the early 2000's

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dncinnanc 2 years, 1 month ago

Minski's is a chain in the same sense that Johnny's is a chain. They are keeping it local, and are no where near the scale of Pizza Hut when it comes to what is (or isn't) actually made in-house.

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Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 1 month ago

The increase in water rates might just be so they have the money to purchase 23,000 trash bins they are gonna stick up our collective arses. Sounds like the old switcheroonie to me. Instead of being truthful about the costs for all the new trash trucks and the logistics required to support it, they in turn tell us they need more money for the water.

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Jonathan Fox 2 years, 1 month ago

The problem is, the city is forcing the carts on us to save money by getting rid of sanitation workers, thus getting rid of already extremely little jobs in Lawrence. How much you want to bet that after this increase pays for the carts that they still raise water and sewer rates even after having "saved" money firing sanitation workers.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

The carts are being paid for by existing fund balances, and the jobs will be reduced by attrition, not firing or layoffs, according to the city.

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scaramouchepart2 2 years, 1 month ago

Or cover the fees for extending the water to the new Rec Center property.

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Steve Jacob 2 years, 1 month ago

"This town just can't seem to spend enough on (blank) to satisfy itself."

You can fill in the blank with probably 20 different things.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

One thing you'll never want for in Lawrence, Kansas: Pizza and Mexican food.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

No it isn't.

I grew up in NYC - you can't get food like that anywhere else I've ever lived, including Chicago.

The new place at 15th and Kasold is pretty good for NY style pizza, though.

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blindrabbit 2 years, 1 month ago

cheeseburger: Have you ever considered a move to Salina, Topeka, Great Bend, Hutch. or any other Kansas city that matches you interest in "The Arts". I'm sure you would enjoy the boredom they all have in common.

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Jonathan Fox 2 years, 1 month ago

All of the cities you listed have really great arts programs without spending millions of dollars on fancy art centers and facilities and equipment every year.

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asixbury 2 years, 1 month ago

I have lived in most of the towns listed. Salina spends a lot on their arts program, but the town is still a s***-hole. And their public schools have a crappy art program as well. Their arts center is pretty nice, though, and I love their River Festival. Hutch and Great Bend are lacking a lot when it comes to their art programs, but they have plenty of cement. Not to mention, those towns are slowly dying off (especially Hutch). Not sure on Topeka, but I don't know if anything good can come out of that town! Great Bend is a far nicer town than any of the others listed, I might add, but with very little job opportunities. They could all use more investment in the arts, maybe beautify the towns more.

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irvan moore 2 years, 1 month ago

notice how the commission is moving more of the homeless problem into neighborhoods to get them out of downtown

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lucyjj 2 years, 1 month ago

I worked at the downtown Pizza Hut for 10 years from 1976 to 1986. The restaurant opened at the time when the Mass St. Deli was closing for renovation. The lack of competition in the 900 block of Mass at the time along with the the fact that there was only one other restaurant in town at the time with a salad bar (Cornucopia) made Pizza Hut downtown a very popular place, especially since we had a lunch buffet and also a fruit/pudding bar. Lots of good people worked there through the years. It was once one of the busiest Pizza Huts in the nation. That was then. We made our dough fresh every day. Minsky's tried Lawrence once over near 23rd and Iowa either in the late 70s or early 80s. They didn't stay long back then. Maybe they'll do better now in a new location. I wish them success downtown.

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scaramouchepart2 2 years, 1 month ago

2.4 mil for infrastructure for the new Rec Center. Does Chad really believe this one? The costs start at 14 mil and then whatever the city can con KDOT into paying. Not included are the monies for improvements to Hwy 40 and if you look at the land the amount of money to make the land usable will be very costly. The city is selling very hard if they want us to believe in a paltry 2.4 mil for the rec center.

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parrothead8 2 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to meet what the city considers an "average residential customer," because I don't know anybody who would pay only "an extra $3 per year" if "a 4 percent increase for both water and sewer rates" took effect.

Seriously...is there anybody out there who pays $75 a year for water and sewer combined? I'd like to know, because 4% of $75 is $3, so that would make you the "average residential customer."

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

"only an extra $4 per year" sounds like the typical line of bull excrement that gets tossed around this city every year or two. Guess what. The last time they told us that I spent an extra $400 in sales tax and $500 in property tax.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

yea yea yea "you should move to Leoti" blah blah blah.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

and that's money that didn't go to you waitress, bartender, cart girl, house cleaner, landscaper etc. That money got sucked right out of the budget locals. So enjoy your empty buses and library.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

I really did fire my house cleaner after the last vote to raise my property taxes. That's not hyperbole. Sorry Sue.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

oh and now I don't have to pay income taxes. Ha!

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

and here comes Merill to tell you how much that bus driver appreciates the $50k per year plus $15k in benefits that she's being paid to drive around a 20,000 lb empty vehicle

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

once again, sorry Sue. You were a great maid service. I wish I could still afford you and your 6 employees.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

I bet the $2k per year I used to pay Sue's cleaning service bought the treasurer of the library campaign a really nice "leadership" trophy from the Chamber of Commerce. Whoopie!

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

or Leadership Lawrence or whatever they call themselves. I really don't care.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

usually his cabal of groupthinkers hit 'remove comment' at an alarming rate, but LJW censors let me ask you, if he doesn't want people discussing him, why does he keep putting himself into the public sphere on every tax increase that pops on a ballot? Seems pretty much like a "public figure" to my untrained eye.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

That's a rather lengthy conversation you're having with yourself there, Jack.

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jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes, the math looked wrong to me too.

Probably more like $3/month increase, I think.

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Mark Zwahl 2 years, 1 month ago

Here's what troubles me: Every time a government or not-for-profit expands, they increase the minimum $$ required to keep themselves going. When the city buys the Salvation Army site, or the Haskell Recycling site, or whatever, it costs whatever it costs PLUS what it costs year after year to maintain it. Same with the Arts Center. Same with the Humane Society, etc. etc.

I'm a fiscally conservative liberal, and it pains me to watch the city government grow when the population remains essentially the same.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 1 month ago

Someone will be along shortly to tell you that you should be living in Colby. Those thoughts are strictly verboten in Lawrence. Get with the Leadership Lawrence play book or get the heck out! There is no place for dissension on Das Boot Lawrence. Now run aft!

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irvan moore 2 years, 1 month ago

they just want to run the folks being served by the salvation army further away from downtown.

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asixbury 2 years, 1 month ago

I believe you are right on the money with this one, beatnik.

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