News and notes from around town:
• It looks like the battle over whether the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center ought to move away from its east Lawrence neighbors may be winding down.
A local attorney has confirmed to me that Bo Killough, owner of the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center, has purchased two industrial properties near 11th and Haskell, which will allow the business to move its operations within the next several months.
Lawrence attorney Brad Finkeldei said his client finalized a deal last week to purchase the vacant industrial building at 1050 E. 11th St. and an approximately 5-acre storage yard at 1000 E. 11th St. Both pieces of property are just northeast of the 11th and Haskell intersection.
The 1050 E. 11th St. building, which used to house Polk Crane Service, has been vacant. The storage yard is behind the former Schmidt Builders Supply store at 1000 E. 11th St. The building is currently occupied by Just Food, and the new plans will allow Just Food to remain at the location.
The location is only a block away from the recycling center’s current site, but it is much farther removed from neighbors, who have complained the operation’s salvage-yardlike noises and smells aren’t conducive to a residential area. The new location borders the railroad tracks to the north and the city’s trash truck lot on the south.
Now, the deal largely will hinge on the city. The project will need several land-use approvals from City Hall; a special use permit and a site plan are among the two largest. Finkeldei said he intends to have those applications into the city by May 21. It likely will take two to three months at a minimum to process the special use permit.
Finkeldei is asking city officials to hold off on any enforcement actions at the 12th and Haskell site to give the business time to move into the new location.
“Once the approvals are obtained, Mr. Killough will relocate his operation to these new properties as quickly as possible,” Finkeldei wrote in a letter to city officials. “Although Mr. Killough tried to work with the neighbors and the city to find an agreeable solution at its current location, it is clear that relocation is best for all parties concerned.”
Here is one other tidbit about this deal. I understand the 1050 E. 11th St. site had one other party that was very interested in buying the building: the city of Lawrence. My understanding is the city was interested in buying the building to replace the storage building near its city shop at 11th and Haskell that was lost as a result of a fire in recent months.
Now, a key question will become what happens to the 12th and Haskell site once the recycling center is no longer on the property. No word yet on whether the city may be interested in that property.
• From recycling to rehabilitation. Just up the street on Haskell Avenue there is a project under way to save a historic home at 1313 Haskell Ave.
Longtime Brook Creek neighborhood advocates James Grauerholz and Michael Almon teamed up in 2010 to purchase the old home that had become a concern to the city as junk had started to accumulate on the property and the house continued to decay.
Well, it looks like that project is now on the ropes. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider approving a resolution to declare the house unsafe and dangerous, which would clear the way for the property to eventually be demolished by the city.
It would mark the end of a home that has a notable history in Lawrence. The multistory home was built in 1900 by Oliver Hanscom on ground that he homesteaded in 1854 as part of the second group of settlers to arrive in Lawrence.
The house originally was built on property at the southwest corner of 15th and Haskell, but it was moved in 2005 after the house was faced with demolition when a new housing development took place at the corner.
Grauerholz in 2005 helped broker a deal to move the house. In 2010 he stepped in again to form a venture to buy the property when it was slated to be demolished because of neglect.
But now city staff members say that project is not going well. Grauerholz and Almon have cleaned up the yard around the house, staff members noted, but much of the major work needed to make the house safe has not been done. Particularly, major repairs to the roof and the foundation haven’t yet been completed, according to a city memo updating the status of the project. Staff members said conversations with the Grauerholz and Almon indicated the venture no longer had the funds to undertake a renovation. The partnership has been trying to sell the property, but a deal hasn’t been struck thus far.
If approved, the resolution on Tuesday’s agenda would allow the property to be razed by June 1.
• Well, it won’t be as much fun as cleaning out junk from a dilapidated historic home, but the city’s process to create a 2013 budget is in full swing.
City commissioners will conduct a study session at 4 p.m. Tuesday to discuss budget-related issues. While their task will be to come up with a budget for 2013, this is also the time of year when the city gets numbers that summarize its finances for the previous year.
So, let’s take a look at those. The city’s books for 2011 haven’t yet undergone their official audit, but here’s a look at the preliminary numbers:
• If it felt like you paid more in taxes in 2011, you might have. The city collected $15.45 million in property taxes in 2011, up from $14.97 million in 2010. That’s an increase of 3.2 percent. Sales tax revenues increased at an even greater rate. Sales tax collections were up 4.5 percent to $30.83 million.
• Despite the city’s two largest general fund revenue sources showing some gains, they weren’t enough to keep up with rising expenses. Overall, the city’s general fund saw its revenue increase 2.8 percent to $66.01 million in 2011. The city’s general fund expenses, however, increased by 3.1 percent to $66.00 million
Those numbers will serve as a red flag city budget-makers will wave in front of commissioners during this year’s budget process. As a recent city staff memo summarizes: “While expenditures grew 3.1 percent over last year, revenues grew only 2.8 percent. In order to remain balanced, this trend cannot be sustained. The city must continue to explore ways to slow expenditure growth and increase revenue growth.”
What this will mean for the 2013 budget will be interesting. The numbers could be used to justify a tax increase or a reduction in some services. City staff members will argue a 3.1 percent increase in expenditures is quite an accomplishment given the increasing price of fuel, health insurance costs and several other factors they have little control over. In other words, it won’t be feasible to think city budget-makers can come up with a hold-the-line budget that doesn’t affect services.
But per usual, city commissioners don’t like increasing tax rates, and they don’t like decreasing services. So, the key question probably will be whether city commissioners want to roll the dice a bit. They may choose to bet that by 2013 the economy will be on an upswing, and property and sales tax revenue growth will be pretty strong.
Thus far in 2012, sales tax growth has looked strong. This may be a really strong year for sales tax collections in Lawrence. But such positive signs haven’t been seen on the property tax side of the equation. Home sales continue to be sluggish, and the county appraiser has begun to lower some home values.
To see the whole city report related to 2011 finances, click here.