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Leftovers from City Commission forum

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Some of this and a little of that left over from Monday night’s City Commission candidate forum:• On the subject of cost cutting, everyone agreed that core services like police, fire, water and sanitation services would have to continue. All candidates said some cuts would need to be made to deal with a tight budget, but candidates Gwen Klingenberg and Dennis Constance both said they wanted city funding for key social service agencies to be viewed much like funding for the police, fire and other essential city services. “Social services should be included in some of those core services because many of these agencies are serving people who don’t have any other place to turn,” Constance said. Aron Cromwell said the city will have to look everywhere for possible cost savings, but he said he would use different terminology about what the city is preparing to do. “I really dislike that word 'cutting,'” Cromwell said. “To me it is more 'trimming.'” Both James Bush and Price Banks said they had philosophies that government needs to do what the public can’t individually do for itself, but Banks said he was particularly concerned about how much the city’s budget has grown over the past five years. • Constance threw out a big idea when asked about how city, county and school district officials could work better together. Constance said area leaders “maybe should explore” the prospect of a unified government, noting that it has worked in some other areas. Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County several years ago formed a unified government that put many city and county services under one government structure. Banks, who previously served as the director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said his experience in that job convinced him the city and county can run joint services. He said there may be other opportunities, especially in law enforcement, to consider ways to reduce duplication of services. But he stopped short of endorsing a fully unified city-county government. “I’m not sure politically we’re ready for a unified government,” Banks said. City Commissioner Mike Amyx noted that the city and county already work together on fire and medical service. He said he would like the city, county and school district to explore ways to cooperatively purchase goods and commodities. “There are certain things that all three taxing bodies need to purchase to operate,” Amyx said. • A full-blown discussion of the city’s living wage ordinance didn’t occur at Monday’s forum. But Bush said he does have concerns with some city policies related to economic development, although he didn’t get specific in the short amount of time candidates were given to answer questions. “We have policies in place that keep Lawrence off the list of many companies,” Bush said. “We need to level the playing field.” Bush said he’s been told that two or three of the top site selection companies in the country currently don’t consider Lawrence for new business locations. That comment brought the closest thing to an exchange between two candidates. Constance followed Bush and said that if some site selection companies weren’t considering Lawrence that was probably an indication that they didn’t share Lawrence’s values, and perhaps Lawrence shouldn’t worry about being left off their lists. “We need to focus on businesses that share the values we share,” said Constance, who has been a longtime supporter of the living wage ordinance. • Candidate Lance Johnson was the only candidate to offer a “five-point plan” on any subject. Johnson said he has a five-point plan to grow jobs. That plan includes making the tone at City Hall more welcoming to businesses, offering incentive to companies that are ready to grow, working better with Kansas University on job creation possibilities, better planning for infrastructure to accommodate growth, and embracing sustainable and green technology. Johnson later said in the forum that he’s open to new types of economic development incentives that go beyond traditional tax abatements. “We need incentives that mean something to the company we’re offering them to,” Johnson said. “Whether you like it or not, Lawrence is competing with other communities. Bottom line, if we want job growth, we have to recognize that.”

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