News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: This just in from the Douglas County Courthouse: Longtime businessman Frank Male has filed to run against Nancy Thellman for a spot on the Douglas County Commission.
Male, who lives in rural Eudora, filed as a Republican. Male is a co-owner of Lawrence Landscape. He has been active in county government before, having served as a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner.
Male is seeking the seat that represents the 2nd District, which represents parts of Lawrence and most of eastern Douglas County, including Eudora and Baldwin City.
Candidates have until noon on June 1 to file for a seat on the commission. Two of the three seats on the commission are up for election in the November general election. Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, already has filed for re-election to the 3rd District, which represents parts of Lawrence and most of western Douglas County.
• Now that you’ve had that extra day off (and perhaps an extra hot dog or two), surely you have had time to digest what state lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback did with taxes during the last legislative session.
Much of the attention has been focused on reductions in the individual income tax rates and the elimination of income taxes for more than 190,000 businesses. Sometimes lost in the shuffle is the fact the state’s sales tax rate also is set to decrease by 0.6 percent in July 2013.
Everyone will be watching how the income tax cuts work with the state budget, but I’ll be watching what political ramifications the sales tax cut creates in Lawrence.
In particular, I’ll be watching whether local leaders use the reduction of the statewide sales tax as an opportunity to increase the local sales tax. There already has been discussion among some economic development leaders that the community needs a dedicated funding source for economic development, much like how Topeka has a sales tax for eco devo efforts.
One source who runs in such eco devo circles told me a strategy being contemplated is a local sales tax that simply would replace the 0.6 percent state sales tax that is going away.
Such a strategy would allow leaders to tell voters they can support economic development without raising their tax rates above current levels.
I’ve also heard a new local sales tax may be broader than just economic development. In other words, a portion of the 0.6 percent would go to economic development, while the rest of it would go to other initiatives. Dividing up a sales tax is a pretty common way to try to win votes from a broader audience.
It will be interesting to see what other initiatives would get to share in the sales tax proceeds. There will be no shortage to choose from: cultural heritage initiatives, the arts, and retiree attraction are just three that come to mind.
Again, all of this is just speculation I have heard — so take it for what it is worth — but it would create some interesting political decisions. One would be when to have this sales tax election. If you want to have the election before the state sales tax expires, you have two chances: the November 2012 general election or the April 2013 city commission and school district elections.
A second consideration, though, is how this sales tax election would impact an already-talked-about bond issue for Lawrence public schools. If voters are approached with a sales tax vote, closely followed by a school bond, it would be an interesting test of the mindset of voters.
And finally, it will be interesting to see if opponents to a sales tax increase tout what appears to be a bit of irony: State leaders say we must cut our taxes to attract businesses to the state, while local leaders would be advocating we need a new local tax to attract them.
Anyway, here’s betting that even though the legislative session is done, we’re far from done with tax talk.
• We’ll just have to wait and see if a sales tax proposal is engineered by local leaders, but we no longer have to wait to find out who will be the next city engineer for Lawrence. (I know you all have been on the edge of your seats.)
If you remember, we previously reported Shoeb Uddin, the city engineer for the last five years, is leaving to start his own private-sector engineering business.
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules confirmed to me the city has hired from within to fill the position. David Cronin, a project engineer for the city, was promoted to city engineer last week. Cronin has been with the city for five years, but before that worked for the Kansas Department of Transportation. Perhaps his most visible project in Lawrence has been designing the reconstruction of brick streets in Old West Lawrence and East Lawrence. But he also did the design work for the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail, and oversees a host of road projects.
In his new position, Cronin will be responsible for overseeing all the engineering work done in the city’s Public Works Department, which means anybody who is trying to build a project of any size in Lawrence probably will deal with Cronin in some capacity.
• One project that would need an engineer — although not the city’s — is a major water treatment plant for a new wholesale water district.
I don’t know if that is what is in the works, but I did notice the most recent land transfers from the Douglas County Register of Deeds included a property purchase by Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25. According to the records, the wholesale water district purchased a little less than three acres of property near the Kansas River between Lawrence and Eudora.
Specifically, the landlocked piece of property is east of East 1625 Road and north of North 1500 Road. I tried to reach an official with the wholesale water district on Friday, but had no luck. I’ll report back what I eventually find out.
But the idea of new wholesale water treatment plant is one that all city water users should pay attention to. A new wholesale water supplier in Douglas County could have major ramifications to the city of Lawrence’s water operations. Currently, the city of Lawrence is the largest wholesale water provider in Douglas County. The city uses money paid from those wholesale water customers — they include Baldwin City and several rural water districts — to help pay for the city’s two water treatment plants.
That has been particularly important lately because the city several years ago undertook a multimillion-dollar expansion of the Clinton Water Treatment Plant. The expansion increased the capacity of the water treatment plant, but did so at a cost of more than $14 million. If the city loses some of its largest water customers, it makes it all the more difficult to spread out the costs of that plant expansion.
Anyway, since I’ve mentioned land transfers, click here to see the complete list for the week ending May 21.