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Archive for Friday, May 11, 2012

Looking ahead

As commissioners discuss large projects like a new police facility, they should think about what other needs may be on the horizon.

May 11, 2012

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A $30 million price tag has caused Lawrence city commissioners to take pause and ask for more planning on the issue of whether the city’s police force needs a new headquarters building.

Commissioners should be applauded for directing staff members to put together a comprehensive report on the future building, staffing and equipment needs of the Police Department. It is a sign the commission is set to do some serious planning for one of the city’s most vital departments.

But the city’s recent action also raises a question: What took so long?

Some members of the public may have been taken aback by the recent report from a team of consultants who said it will cost about $30 million to build a facility to house the entire operations of the Police Department.

But Police Chief Tarik Khatib quickly told commissioners that a new building was one of only several pressing needs the department faces. He said he still believes the city’s police force is about 30 positions short of its proper size, and equipment needs are quickly mounting.

At that point, commissioners said they wanted to take a big-picture look at the needs of the department. In fairness, city staff members have brought up police department needs in past years. But the issue hasn’t taken hold at the City Commission level.

Instead, issues such as a $19 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, a proposed wastewater treatment plant south of the Kansas River, and, more recently, a major recreational facility in northwest Lawrence have attracted commissioners’ attention.

Those projects may have much merit on their own. But it is disappointing that when commissioners undertake these projects they don’t have a more robust discussion about what other large projects the city may soon be facing.

In these times, it is clear the city can only do so many large projects at once. City staff members never will be able to forecast every need, but commissioners ought to have a good idea of at least the four or five largest projects that reasonably can be expected to emerge in the next several years. Such a list would give both the public and the commission a chance to do some long range planning, and set some priorities.

The timing of all these recent projects raises a legitimate question of whether voters would have thought differently about the $19 million library expansion if they had known more about the pressing needs of the Police Department, and spent more time thinking about the future needs and uses of a library with vast changes in technology.

Those issues are in the past and city commissioners appear to be on the right track in evaluating the latest report regarding Police Department needs. Commissioners should ask questions about why the building seems to be significantly more expensive than many other buildings its size, and also should question the assertion by architects that it would be infeasible to build the project in phases.

But most importantly commissioners should ask the question that should never be far from their minds: What other city projects or needs are just over the horizon?

Comments

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Put this issue to the voters such that took place for the Library. Taxpayers made the library decision.

Put the new over the top rec center to the voters because in essence this will come in as a tax increase no matter what.

Put any new residential projects to the voters after their property values are impacted when the market is flooded

Put any new retail projects to the voters after all flooded markets and economic displacement is unfriendly to business ...... and homeowners who make up tax dollar shortfalls not by choice aka tax increase

Put any new annexation to the voters after all it is the voting taxpayers who get stuck paying for this expansion aka tax increase

It is my conjecture that the majority of voting taxpayers do not trust political bodies such as the city/county commissions and the Chamber of NOT Commerce to always make the best economic growth decisions.

Let the largest body of stakeholders aka voting taxpayers make the decisions by way of the ballot box.

nativeson 2 years, 7 months ago

The unfortunate part of this situation is that the police chief refused to look at alternatives. What about improvements on the two sites? Do we really believe that a single site is worth $30 million in savings by having one location?

The implications of this decision is about 1.5 mills over the next 20 years for every taxpayer in Lawrence. The bond and interest fund is already slightly underfunded, and additions will require a big tax increase.

The problem has always been the shroud of opacity that is drapped over the police department. They have their own IT system and financial analyst. They will create their own reality of need exclusive of the limited resources within the community.

Patricia Davis 2 years, 7 months ago

With Brownback's hell-bent path to destroy Kansas and explode local property taxes, we should just say no to anything requiring tax increases until we see exactly how Sam's plan will affect us locally. This is absolutely the wrong time for a property tax increase. And the wrong time for our city commissioners to bypass local citizens.

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