Archive for Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lawrence City Commission explains support for $17 million police headquarters

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

August 6, 2017


Although some Lawrence residents may think they voted down a tax increase to fund a new police headquarters, the Lawrence City Commission doesn’t look at it that way.

For one, Mayor Leslie Soden said it’s not the same project.

“I think that if we were trying to do the same project for the same amount of money with property tax — and raising taxes for that — then absolutely that would be a run-around to what people voted no on,” Soden said. “But to me, people voted no on that project, which had some pretty particular parameters.”

The $28 million project voters narrowly defeated in 2014 included a land purchase and would have been funded by a 0.2 percent sales tax. It was rejected by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.

The $17-million plan

The new project will be built in phases on land the city already owns, with one option being a property at the intersection of Overland Drive and Wakarusa Drive. Though not designed yet, the idea is to make it possible for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to also locate on the site in the future to save costs.

The plan is to move the police department’s patrol division and some support services into the first phase, allowing the department to vacate the space at the county-owned Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St. That would in turn allow the municipal court to move into the vacated space so as to be in the same building as district court.

Commissioners Tuesday approved an approximately $255 million budget for 2018 that increases the property tax rate by 1.25 mills. The mill levy increase will enable debt financing for $17 million for the first phase of the new police headquarters. Unlike a sales tax increase, the property tax increase for the purpose of issuing debt does not require a public vote under state law.

Though Soden was the sole vote against the budget, she said she wasn’t voting against the police headquarters, but instead against raising property taxes.

“I just don’t think we should be raising taxes for it,” Soden said. “I think that the incremental, phased-in approach is perfect for not having to raise taxes to cover it. And I think there are other projects that should wait a few years, especially Parks and Rec projects.”

The property tax increase will cost the owner of a $175,000 home an additional $25 annually in city property taxes. The budget also assumes voters will renew the 0.55 citywide sales tax and increases utility rates by an average of $65 annually.

The commission's responsibility

When asked why he was comfortable moving forward with the project without a public vote, Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said what the commission did was figure out the financing for the project. He noted state law doesn’t call for a public vote under those circumstances, and that it’s the commission’s job to make those decisions.

“Are we supposed to not make decisions as commissioners on issues that confront us?” Boley said. “I think we’re doing our job by doing it this way. We have a responsibility to the police who are our employees and to the public, for whom we’re providing public safety. I think we have that responsibility and we’re meeting that responsibility.”

Boley also said the commission plans to involve the community in developing the plans for the police headquarters.

“They’ll have a chance to be heard on what we’re going to do as we develop the facility,” Boley said. “I hope that as we develop the plans it will generate and receive outstanding support from the community because that’s what we need for public safety.”

When asked about his decision to move the police headquarters project forward, Commissioner Mike Amyx said that any decision to raise taxes is hard and his decision was not made without considering lots of public comment, the city’s budget priorities and the past vote.

“And believe me, before the final vote on Tuesday, I played it over many times in my mind about the vote that happened several years ago on the sales tax,” Amyx said, noting that people said the sales tax was already too high and it didn’t make sense for the city to purchase land. “I think a lot of that was taken into consideration for me and I think that there’s been a number of things that changed that I felt like I could support it.”

Like Boley, Amyx said he thinks that rather than putting the decision to a public vote, the decision falls under the commission’s responsibility.

“I’m elected to represent people and take in all sides of any of the issues that come forward,” Amyx said. “At this time, as we’ve created the budget, that went through my mind, but it’s one of those times where I felt that I was elected to do the job.”

Then and now

When asked about his decision, Commissioner Matthew Herbert said the issue of public safety is never an issue that gets put to public vote. He said that was not what the 2014 vote was about.

“People very well may have voted no on the police facility because they were specifically anti-facility; their vote may have had nothing to do with the sales tax,” Herbert said. “But the reality is the vote itself was a vote on the sales tax, not a vote on the facility.”

In addition to the police headquarters, the city’s budget includes $60 million for other projects. With that in mind, Herbert said he doesn’t think it’s fair to “singularly blame” the police headquarters project for the tax increase. He also pointed out the close margin of the 2014 vote and said he thinks there is a big difference in attitudes between then and now.

“The 'no' vote in 2014 was in a lot of ways tied to a whole lot of spending that had happened all at once,” Herbert said, noting the $19 million library renovation and the process surrounding the $25 million Rock Chalk Park. “And so there was a lot of anger in the community about costs and about process and it’s really unfortunate that the police department bore the brunt of that beef."

Commissioner Lisa Larsen did not immediately return a call Friday from the Journal-World but was one of the commissioners who explained their stance during Tuesday’s meeting. At that time, Larsen said the police department’s facilities are “woefully inadequate” and that she thinks the commission would be remiss not to address the issue after the city’s priority-based budgeting process identified it as a top need.

This year, $1.5 million was budgeted for the planning and design of the new police headquarters, but City Manager Tom Markus has told the commission he did not want the city to spend those funds to develop a design before the commission approved funding for the project. Now that the commission has approved funding, site selection and design will move forward.


David Holroyd 7 months, 2 weeks ago

No means NO! Boley can pay my share with his federal pension. This commission will vote for what ever Markus tells them . And how much will the architects make and what firm?

Libby Davis 7 months, 2 weeks ago

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Sue McDaniel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I would give our police whatever they need to do their job and be safe and cut something else. The no vote was a backlash obviously to some unpopular and not very well managed projects. That said, this still says your vote did not matter. You vote no, we will find a new path.

Bob Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

It's as if they are saying "shut up and give us your money, peasants..."

Stuart Evans 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Does this mean that an individual might finally be able to get a parking spot at the courthouse? I mean, without 200 cop cars mucking things up, parking for court or to get your tags could be a pleasant experience.

Is it worth $17million.. sure why not, it's only money, right?

Tom Thomson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, yes it does. It also means those who work down there will be able to find a place to park. It would be nice if there was a secure parking lot for the (not anywhere near 200) patrol cars.

Michelle Reynolds 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Why is the proposal okay to do without a public vote? When the last one needed public support.

Michelle Reynolds 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Also, I thought the location was to be centrally located. Especially since the town will grow south and is growing eastward. Seems like a poor locations

Mike Riner 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Reminds me of when they proposed our current city hall.....and a City Commissioner was heard to say "I don't care if you vote for it or against it. We're going to build it anyway." So that's how it goes. We're going to do as we please and the taxpayers be damned?

Jonathan Fox 7 months, 2 weeks ago

So if this increase is for the sake of the police station, does that mean it will go back down next year?

Fat chance! Make excuses to increase taxes (library included) and then never bring them back down. At what point do we say enough is enough?

Jeremy Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

So basically Soden says that if voters reject a tax increase for a project then they can just change the project and then it is okay. She is still missing the point that different project or not, voters turned down a tax increase for a police headquarters.

I hope people remember that this spending is out of control come November when Herbert and Larsen are up for election. I also hope this is remembered when Soden comes up for her seat.

Ken Farris 7 months, 2 weeks ago

The commission is using a false argument. Either they don't understand what people were complaining about when they voted against the sales tax or they are just blowing smoke up our collective arses.

It is simple, The city overextended itself with vanity projects. Had the city stated that we have three big projects (sports park, library, and police station), but that we can only afford two of them, the police station would have been chosen. Instead, they spent up to their limit and then came back to us and said we need a police station. WE SPENT ALL WE HAD. This has nothing to do with support of the police. NO TAX INCREASE!!! Vote these crooks out!! They are not listening and they are treating us as idiots.

Charlie Dominguez 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Amen, they are not listening to the public. Time for new commissioners.

Sam Crow 7 months, 2 weeks ago

In early May of 2011, the people of Joplin Mo thought their police department had everything it needed. The police infrastructure was good enough.

The day after the tornado struck on May 22, they realized how lacking the police infrastructure really was. They were not able to coordinate the efforts of all the emergency agencies that showed up to assist. They just hadn’t gone to the latest technology available to police, and the facilities to utilize them.

The forward thinking cities in the region took note and began bringing their own infrastructure to modern levels.. But not here in Mayberry RFD.

Lawrence liberals would rather spend months and months pouring over plans and endless revised plans, on how much to charge for parking on Mass.

Lawrence police facilities are the green shag carpeting of the police world. It is time to update. The commissioners need to show some leadership and not allow the public to control the colors

Carol Bowen 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Sam, Using Joplin MO is a good example. We should update our police depertment's facilities. I do object to two of your remarks:

Using "Lawrence Liberals" weakens your point. It would be difficult to identify political leanings based on a discussion about a police department facility. And, we don't need more divisiveness in Lawrence.

On one hand, you seem to support the need for a new police department facility. On the other hand, you criticized the city commission for lack of leadership. Is the commission not leading in the direction you think they should?

Sam Crow 7 months, 2 weeks ago

It cannot be denied that Lawrence is controlled politically by liberals. I get it. It’s a college town.

The City Commission gets so mired in contemplation of issues, it becomes frozen in indecisiveness.

That is exemplified in today’s article about Ninth Street.

Regarding the police, this commission proposes to build a new facility and move only some of the department into it, then wait for a second phase. That is half a decision, made by those that are indecisive. That is not leadership.

Yes, I do support a new police headquarters. Spend the money and do it right, like modern thinking communities do. Shawnee is smaller than Lawrence, but look at the modern public safety campus that they built, with police and fire headquarters, next to the municipal court. That is leadership.

Debbie Julian Liddel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

The situation in Joplin was chaos I am sure. However, it is the job of the Emergency Management Department to "coordinate the efforts of all the emergency agencies that showed up to assist" not the job of the Police Department. Also, was it their headquarters building that hindered the Joplin police? I doubt it.

Sam Crow 7 months, 2 weeks ago

No Debbie, it wasnt the bricks and mortar of a building that hindered the police.

It was their antiquated communications and control system that was a remnant of yesteryear.

The technology stuff that goes inside the buildings. But you have to have a building that can accommodate such things.

Brent Atwater 7 months, 2 weeks ago

NO is NO! This should come to a vote for the public or at the least, wait until the new Police Chief has an opportunity to look all options. I do not want to pay for the previous Police Chief's wants and needs when he is no longer here.

Theodore Calvin 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I would bet they used the "New Police Campus" as a recruiting tool for the Police Chief hire. Who wouldn't want to come and have a nice new building/campus?

Debbie Julian Liddel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I think this shows the arrogance of our City Commission. They know better than the citizens what we should spend our money on. They are raising taxes when it does not appear necessary to complete a project the people rejected. I think it is clear that whatever the commissioners think the people were asked to vote on, the people thought we were voting on whether or not this project should be funded.

If it is so important to the City Commission, maybe they could donate money and raise donations from other private citizens to fund it instead of raising our taxes to pay for something we don't want!

David Holroyd 7 months, 2 weeks ago

The fact that they need to comment, the commissoners that is, goes to show that it is a bad idea. The very idea that they need to justifly it.

Markus wants it and wants something to happen on his watch. He will tell them anything. He is not interested in the long range survival of the community. He is just like many others, resume building.

If Boley and Soden and Larsen and Herbert and Amyx were so concerned about affordable housing they wouldn;t be RAISING TAXES...taxes are a component of housing. Duh?

These commissioners need to grow a set and tell Mr. Markus they are in charge!

Wait till you read about the architects fees! Then after the building is built there will be another property tax increase for operational costs and maintenance (maybe, they will let it go into disrepair).


David Holroyd 7 months, 2 weeks ago

And what about the roof on the Mausoleum at Oak Hill? Cant get that done Mr. Markus? No glory in that is there?

Mayor Soden, take the lead or get off the pot.!

David Holroyd 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Maybe the city commissoners and the city manger, one Mr. Markus, should take a hike over to Overland Park and see who a city council works. Higher valuations and the ciity is going to lower the mill levy. Going to vote on their budget this week.

Lawrence = Higher valuations and the city raises the mlll levy.


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