Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City leaders question Lawrence school district request to waive building permit fees

October 5, 2017


City Manager Tom Markus is questioning the Lawrence school district’s request for the city to partially waive permitting fees for the district’s upcoming construction projects.

Lawrence voters approved an $87 million bond issue in May to pay for school renovations, and district leaders recently sent a letter to the city requesting it waive 50 percent of the permitting fees.

Related document

Letter from Lawrence school district ( .PDF )

Related document

Letter from Tom Markus ( .PDF )

Markus sent a letter in response asking the district to substantiate the request, which he brought to the City Commission’s attention at its meeting this week.

“Typically, when another jurisdiction issues bonds for an improvement like this, they incorporate these types of fees into the cost,” Markus said. “It’s my belief that these costs are clearly eligible to be paid for out of bond proceeds.”

The school district’s letter notes that the city made a "similar arrangement" regarding permitting fees for construction projects funded by the district’s 2013 bond issue. The letter states the district determined the permitting fees for this round of projects would cost about $180,000, and requested the city “waive half” of the fees.

“The entire community benefits when governmental entities work in partnership and when bond issue dollars can be maximized to improve public schools and support students,” the letter states.

The letter also states the district wants to be good partners and follow city processes for conducting plan reviews, issuing permits, inspecting the construction, and issuing certificates of occupancy.

Markus' letter to the district states permit fees are a standard cost associated with all construction in the city, and asks whether permit fees were not contemplated when budgeting for the $87 million of school projects. He also asks if the district is asking their consultants, vendors, contractors and others associated with the bond projects to discount their fees.

Markus also asks to know what the partial fee waiver means.

“The city provides excellent plan review and inspection services to help ensure safety at job sites and for future occupants of buildings, but those services have hard costs associated with them,” Markus wrote. “Are you seeking a reduction in these services since you are asking to pay only fifty percent (50%) of the service fees?”

Mayor Leslie Soden told the Journal-World that she thinks Markus “definitely makes some good points.” Soden also brought up a 2015 accident at New York Elementary School, in which an 8-year-old boy was injured after her wandered onto the construction site.

That accident occurred after a deal between the city and the school district related to building inspections on that site and other school sites. The city waived the permitting fees for those projects and allowed the school district to arrange private inspections. After the accident, questions arose as to whether those inspections had been adequate.

Soden said she definitely doesn’t want the city decreasing its level of inspection.

“I think it’s important to go ahead and make sure everything is squared away, especially with the accident,” Soden said. “I think it’s appropriate to go ahead and collect those fees.”

But Soden said she wants to hear more information about the school district’s request, and exactly what is being sought. She said she would also like to hear more from Markus — who has worked in several cities — about whether such a request is typical.

Markus’ letter posed several additional questions, including a point about how a partial fee waiver would shift additional burden on city taxpayers as compared to those who live within the school district boundaries but outside the city.

In Markus’ report to the commission, he noted the city and school district have a “strong working relationship,” and that once he learns more information he foresees bringing the topic to the commission for discussion.


Brett McCabe 7 months, 3 weeks ago

What's up with the attitude in Markus' letter? Too much fox-fix for our city manager I'm guessing. Or he's trying to cut back on caffeine. Go have a mountain dew and calm you stuff down.

To all the people who didn't like Dave Corliss, this is what you get when you import a mean-tempered republican from a crap state like Iowa.

Bob Summers 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I love watching Liberals fighting over someone else's money as if it was their own.

Francis Hunt 7 months, 3 weeks ago

First I have to laugh that the school board (asking for a $90,000 break) didn't even have the professionalism or courtesy to properly begin this letter, "Dear Leslie and Tom," seriously? What happened to "Dear Mayor Soden and Mr. Markus" of course Mr. Markus could have also addressed them properly but the fact is this is city/government business and "Leslie's" title is "Mayor." Two, I guess it doesn't hurt to ask but I hope the city tells them "no."

Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I would rather the city forgive $90,000 to the school district than turn a blind eye to the millions upon millions the city donates to profiteering local developers bank accounts.

A school district such that Lawrence supports is a substantial draw for new business and economic growth whereas the new tall buildings on New Hampshire and one on the way to Vermont will never match what a quite respectable school district offers up.

Carol Bowen 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Mayor Soden recalled The accident at New York Elementary school in 2015. For school construction, the responsibility for inspections was modified. Inspections of school construction should be rigorous and should be paid for. It’s odd that USD 497 is addressing cost for inspections after receiving the bond. Does that mean inspections are not in the budget? Is USD 497 asking for modified inspections again?

The only argument that supports the cost sharing is that the city wanted neighborhood schools. That’s absolutely true, and neighborhood schools cost more than consolidated schools. Money well spent. Bottom line is it’s our tax dollar either way.

Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Politicians are defunding public education because their special interest campaign supporters want OUR public education tax dollars in their bank accounts.

Schools Underfunded 657 million $$$$$$

Bob Summers 7 months, 3 weeks ago

American public education cannot break the top 20 worldwide in math, science and reading and yet spend the most money by two fold.

Congenital Liberals are the problem.

Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Lawrence,Kansas can match the top 20 worldwide ...... any day of the week.

I would imagine the most schools affected by the Koch/ALEC/Brownback thinkers are not doing so well due to massive budget cuts to education.

What ALEC and Fundamentalist politicians have documented is massive reduction to education budgets is a failing policy nationwide.

=== Defunding/Dismantling Public Education Team

ALEC Subversive Activity

ALEC – The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures

=== Pay close attention to this 24/7 organized activity: American Legislative Exchange Council Boot Camp Team

Steve Jacob 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I pointed about a month ago in the story about how the jail cost was going up due to much higher labor cost, that the USD 497 bond was going to run into the same problems. That $87M bond just will not pay for as much construction as it would have earlier this year.

Deborah Snyder 7 months, 3 weeks ago

The school district had those costs figured into their bond calculations. However, if precedent is set in waiving permit fees, then they will belly up to the bar every time. The dangerous incident at New York elementary serves as an example of what the city may face with this much larger multi-site bond project, with an exponential danger to students at those locations.

And "No," it is not the same public tax dollars either way the city decides to go. The city's inspectors aren't subcontractors hired by the school district and thus beholden; nor do taxpayers pay additional monies for city inspectors to do their work on ensuring public safety, quality of work and outcomes... that is precisely why those fees exist, regardless of who the builder/developer/contractor is.

A sadder but wiser city development staff are also more wary of shortcuts, substitutions and gimmicks the district may propose (this being one of them) in this multi-year, complicated bond project, particularly involving the contractors' track records AND all the Change Orders sure to come from micromanagement by the former superintendent heading this project.

I, too, hope the city will ensure impartiality and refuse additional financial burdens overseeing this bond, which school officials will certainly try to save money on wherever they can get away with it.

Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

There is nothing to stop the city from sending city inspectors as a back up as there is nothing stopping concerned taxpayers from requesting the city to do so.

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