Archive for Monday, May 7, 2012

Town Talk: National food magazine highlights Wheatfields loaf; city looks to change chicken ordinance; Chamber formally asks for new eco devo organization

May 7, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• Hopefully, the editors of Saveur — one of the top food magazines in the country — won’t hold it against all of Lawrence that my breakfast this morning consisted of a leftover, discount-bin, hamburger bun.

The folks at Saveur, you see, are very into bread, and in particular, have high praise for one Lawrence loaf. The editors of the magazine have ranked Wheatfields Bakery’s Wheat Walnut Raisin as one of the 45 best loaves of bread in America. Thanks to an alert Town Talk reader for pointing this out.

The magazine’s current issue is devoted to American breads, and the magazine has nice things to say about Wheatfields’ loaf. It mentions how it is baked in Wheatfields’ Spanish brick-oven and uses a mixture of organic wheat flour, with a touch of rye and spelt. (Spelt, according to the dictionary: An old kind of wheat with bearded ears. My hamburger bun was bearded this morning, but I’m not sure that was spelt.)

The magazine also suggests the bread is great with a cheese plate, or toasted for breakfast with softened butter. Sure, now you tell me.

• Perhaps some of you had eggs for breakfast this morning. If you got them from your Lawrence backyard: 1. Hopefully you have a chicken back there, and; 2. It still will have to have an outdoor coop of at least 10 square feet to meet the city’s regulations regarding chickens.

But those regulations are about to change for places like Orscheln Farm & Home. We reported last week that the city recently notified the retailer that its longtime Chick Days Sale didn't comply with a city ordinance designed to regulate the housing of backyard chickens.

Well, that’s about to change. The city has added an item to its Tuesday City Commission meeting agenda to consider an ordinance that would provide an exception to the regulations for commercial businesses that occasionally sell chicks as part of their operations.

The city attorney’s office previously stressed that the current regulations didn’t provide the office any leeway in granting an exception to the space requirements.

According to a memo from the city attorney’s office, it appears the city’s interpretation of the code also impacted the Chick Days Sale held at the local Tractor Supply Company store.

The ordinance change is slated for the commission’s consent agenda, which means commissioners aren’t expected to voice any opposition to the changes.

• Speaking of things that Lawrence would like to hatch, new jobs are near the top of that list. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has formally requested a change in how the city and county’s economic development efforts are run.

In a recent interview with the J-W, Mayor Bob Schumm forecast such a request would be on the way. Now it has arrived and is expected to get discussed by city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.

The new structure has a chance to significantly change how economic developments issues — and in particular incentive requests — are handled. The letter from the chamber doesn’t provide a lot of details about how the new structure would work, but it does highlight several times that the new system needs to be able to “respond rapidly to seize opportunities that benefit our community.”

Some incentive requests — like tax abatements — will have to be made by elected officials either on the city or county commissions. But tax abatements are becoming less frequent, while grants, low-interest loans and other cash incentives are becoming more common in the economic development world.

Would this new group be able to approve those type of incentives on its own? Based on conversations I’ve had, I believe that would be the case. When I chatted with Schumm previously, it seemed the idea was to create a new economic development organization that would have its own budget and its own decision-making authority.

The chamber’s recent letter provides some detail about who may be on this new board. Among the chamber’s recommendations are:

— A three-member executive committee would make “day-to-day” decisions related to economic development initiatives in the city and the county. The executive committee would be made up of the Lawrence city manager, the county administrator and the chamber CEO.

— A larger “Joint Economic Development Council” would be established to supervise the organization’s budget, to make budget requests to the city and the county, and to recommend polices for economic development initiatives. The council would include the three members from the executive committee, plus several representatives from KU and other organizations. They include: the chair of the chamber’s board of directors; a Lawrence city commissioner, a Douglas County commissioner, the KU Chancellor or her designee, the executive chair of the Bioscience and Business Technology Center, and three representatives from the business community appointed by the chamber CEO. The city administrators of Eudora and Baldwin City also would serve as ex officio members of the council.

— The letter also provides details about a significant organizational change with the chamber. The chamber is planning on hiring a new chief operations officer, who will handle all of the traditional chamber functions related to memberships services and business advocacy. That will allow the new chamber president and CEO — Greg Williams, a former economic development leader in Springfield, Mo., who will begin work in late May — to have a much more active role in economic development activities. The chamber also has the open position of senior vice president of economic development to fill. No word yet on what the funding plans are for the new COO position.

Funding, of course, will become the big issue at some point. The chamber letter doesn’t get into that at all, but already there is talk in some circles about whether voters will be asked to support a new sales tax for economic development activities in the future.

At its Tuesday meeting, city commissioners are being asked to direct staff to draft a formal ordinance that would create the new organization. The City Commission will meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.


Ken Lassman 5 years, 11 months ago

Well, the chicken fuss was bound to be quickly resolved as it was so clearly a bad judgement call. Now the posters are going to have to find a new "cause" to replace the lowest hanging fruit in some time!

Phil Minkin 5 years, 11 months ago

When will the city commission realize that there is more than one voice needed when talking about eco/devo . The chamber has a poor record in promoting tax relief and abatement with only about 1/3 meeting their commitment. They caused the city to violate the open meetings law and ironically ask for tax funds while touting the virtues of private enterprise. Take the money we give to the chamber and hire someone at city hall with a planning and development background.

no_thanks 5 years, 11 months ago

Foodboy-I don't know your source on about 1/3rd meeting their commitment because, in the aggregate, the record is pretty good. If giving up $117k in property tax abatements to Companies that paid a total of $973k is a bad thing, than I don't want to be good.

The following is a summary provided by TownTalk's April 30 summary: Perhaps there are some numbers that will surprise you. Here’s a look:

— Five companies received a property tax abatement in 2011. The five companies received a grand total of $116,917 in property tax breaks. The companies paid a total of $973,173 in property taxes.

— The performance of companies that received tax abatements was a mixed bag. In summary, the five companies didn’t produce as many full-time jobs as they had projected, but the average wage per job was higher than projected. The companies, in total, projected to create 332 full-time jobs as a result of the tax abatements. In reality, 264 full-time jobs had been created at the end of 2011. The companies, though, did create 225 part-time jobs, well above the 11 that were projected.

On the wage front, the companies are paying more than they originally projected. At the end of 2011, the average full-time wage at the companies totaled $41,000. That’s about 9 percent higher than the $37,600 — which has been adjusted for inflation — that was projected by the companies.

The report also notes that at $41,000 per year, the average wage is about $12,000 higher than the average, full-time, private-sector wage in Lawrence.

— The performance of individual companies varied significantly. Here’s a look:

Allen Press: Full-time positions projected: 13. Full-time positions created: 13. Average wage projected: $33,757. Average wage paid: $46,016. Amarr Garage Doors: Full-time positions projected: 80. Full-time positions created: 40. Average wages projected: $30,531. Average wages paid: $33,699. DST Systems: Full-time positions projected: 175. Full-time positions created: 122. Average wages projected: $51,812. Average wages paid: $39,388. DST also created 214 part-time positions, which weren’t projected as part of its tax abatement application. Prosoco: Full-time positions projected: 50. Full-time positions created: 62. Average wages projected: $28,446. Average wages paid: $45,152. Reuter Organ Co.: Full time positions projected: 14. Full-time positions created: 27. Average wages projected: $43,610. Average wages paid: $39,592. — Two companies — Allen Press and DST Systems — had their tax abatements end in December, and are now on the tax rolls at 100 percent. At least one company is expected to join the tax abatement list in 2012. Grandstand Sportswear and Glassware was approved for a 65 percent tax abatement to facilitate its expansion from South Lawrence to East Hills Business Park.

Phil Minkin 5 years, 11 months ago

It's from a letter to the city commission from Kirk McClure, a KU professor in the KU urban planning department: "The Chamber led the City Commission into many tax abatements. These tax abatements worked only 35 percent of the time. The other abatements either saw the firm fail to comply with the terms of the abatement, fail to report, or go out of business altogether. With such a poor record, it is understandable that the Chamber fought every attempt by the Public Incentives Review Commission to audit the performance of the tax abatement program."

thefactsare 5 years, 11 months ago

How long ago was that letter written by the Mr. McClure? And does he explain his calculations or where his background information can be found?

no_thanks 5 years, 11 months ago

I could have guessed your source. He has a history of misstating facts so that he can bad mouth the Chamber. Regardless of his purpose, he could learn from Professor Dennis Dormer, who is able to work with old and new structures for the betterment of the Community. I respect those who come up with workable "smart growth" solutions/alternatives rather than someone like McClure and Merrill who are against growth. Ironically, they don't apply the same logic in using tax dollars for supporting other heavily subsidized industries such as the arts, the public library, etc... Eventually they will realize that it is economic growth that provides people with jobs, whoin turn pay taxes, send their kids to be educated, and ultimately pay McClure his wages.

down_the_river 5 years, 11 months ago

Will the amended ordinance allow the County Fair to continue with the poultry barn as well, or will that be shut down in mid stride also?

otto 5 years, 11 months ago

Fairgrounds are in the county, not the city.

down_the_river 5 years, 11 months ago

You might wish to consult your map again. The Fairgrounds may perhaps be listed as Douglas County property, but they are, and have been for decades, within the city limits of Lawrence.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 11 months ago

Tractor Supply is in the city limits. Thanks, Chad

Lee Saylor 5 years, 11 months ago

I worked in higher education for 20 years. My observation was that the higher the degree a student pursued, the less common sense they exhibited.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 11 months ago

Wheatfields has several loaves of bread that deserve to be on a "best of" list.

cowboy 5 years, 11 months ago

The proposal to have the three person committee should be tanked immediately. If your dealing with public monies you need to do your business in the public domain. The CofC has been an abject failure in bringing any jobs into the city.

I would much rather see these investments go to small business start ups rather than giving the already rich loans and tax breaks.

Keith 5 years, 11 months ago

And not one of the three is an elected official. So if they spend tax money on something the public doesn't want, there is no direct accountability.

Jillster 5 years, 11 months ago

I wonder if the crates of chicks that occasionally get shipped through the Post Office have made the Post Office run "afowl" of the city ordinances....

(I had never heard of such a thing as shipping chicks until one day I was at the downtown branch, and I heard...chicks! Apparently they can be shipped by one-day Express Mail.)

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 11 months ago

The memo from the city attorney's office notes the new ordinance would provide an exception for the Post Office. Thanks, Chad

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