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City asked to provide monthly funding for arts coordinator; new report recommends water/sewer bill increases; city set to approve longevity bonuses


News and notes from around town:

• You might notice that Town Talk looks a bit different today. (Why is there a slightly shaven man staring at you, for instance?) Well, that’s progress folks. We’re switching this column and others over to our blogging platform. Hopefully, it will provide you an easier way to click on Town Talk and catch up on the posts that you may have missed. It also will provide us a better platform to build some new gizmos and gadgets in the future.

But all of this is a work in progress, so I hope you’ll bear with us. Case in point: On this page currently you’ll see some really old Town Talks. That’s a glitchy thing. (Sorry to get so technical on you.) Soon enough, those old Town Talks will be replaced by newer Town Talks, and then you’ll be able to click on one page and scroll from top to bottom and see the newest Town Talk and ones from the past several days. In the meantime, take advantage of our free time machine and catch up on what was going on back in 2010.

Case in point No. 2 in the glitchy category: A few hundred of you have signed up to have Town Talk delivered to your inbox each weekday. For the time being, those daily e-mails will be replaced by a couple of e-mails per week reminding you that you can find all the Town Talks on this page. We hope to get the daily e-mail feature back up and running in the future. Another option for those who are interested is to friend me on Facebook. I plan to be more faithful in posting a daily link to Town Talk on that page each day at noon.

• In honor of the Mona Lisa-like portrait that now adorns this page (wait a minute, that might not be as flattering a description as I had hoped), let’s talk a little art.

City commissioners at their meeting tonight will be asked to spend a few thousand dollars on a couple of art projects. Here’s a look: — The Lawrence Arts Center is asking the city to come up with $300 per month to help fund a part-time coordinator for the Final Fridays arts events that takes place the last Friday of each month in downtown. The city’s Cultural Arts Commission has been providing $300 a month for the coordinator position for the last couple of years, using some essentially leftover funding in its budget. But that pot of money has dried up, and now city commissioners are being asked to come up with the $300 out of the city’s general till. Susan Tate, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center, told me it is “absolutely vital” to have a coordinator for the monthly events. That’s because many of the art showings for the events happen at non-traditional gallery spaces, such as coffee shops, retail stores, or vacant buildings. Connecting artists with those spaces takes, well, coordination.

The Lawrence Arts Center and Downtown Lawrence Inc. already each provide $300 per month for the coordinator position. That funding arrangement will continue, Tate said.

— The second project is a more speculative venture, but one that arts leaders think could produce a big bang. The city is being asked to provide $2,000 in funding for a grant writer to prepare an application to the National Endowment of the Arts.

The Lawrence Arts Center is hoping to win up to $200,000 in funding to start a program that would create a new digital media education program. The project would bring in as an artist-in-residence R. Luke DuBois, a notable New York-based artist who specializes in new media.

The program also would reach out to East Lawrence’s New York Elementary School to provide new media education for students.

The end result, arts leaders hope, is an explosion of creativity in the world of new media. That could mean multiple short film projects, animation projects, computer-generated artistic projections, live music with digital effects, and all sorts of other things that would require me to break out high-tech words such as gizmos and doo-dads.

The project would culminate with a bulked up Free State Film and Music Festival. The Arts Center has hosted the Free State festival the last two years, but with more funding, leaders believe they could take it to a whole other level of national prestige.

Lawrence will face stiff competition for the NEA grant dollars. Tate said the city won’t learn whether it has received any funding until September.

• Perhaps there is a way the digital animators can make your yard look green through the heat of the Kansas summer. Right now that takes lots of water, and a new report out of City Hall is recommending that you’ll need to pay more for that water in the future.

This report is new — as in just a few hours old — so I haven’t fully digested the nearly 80-page report yet. But it appears the report holds strong to the city staff’s previous recommendation that water and sewer rates need to go up in order to provide the type of service residents have come to expect.

If you remember, city commissioners during their budget deliberations this summer took the unusual step of deferring action on the city’s water and sewer rates for 2013. Staff members had recommended rate increases of between 4 percent to 6 percent for most customers.

This new report is recommending what looks to be a 28.6 percent rate increase phased in over the next five years for the average water user — which the city considers to be a household that uses about 4,000 gallons of water per month.

In other words, the typical water and sewer bill is estimated to be $47.64 per month currently. In 2017, that typical bill would be $61.30 per month.

The extra revenue would help fund many maintenance projects, but most notably it also would allow the city to build the long-talked about multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River by 2018. I suspect that will be a major point of discussion. That project easily could cost $70 million, and I’m not sure city commissioners are convinced the city’s population is growing fast enough to justify the expense.

But delaying the project is risky business because if the city’s population growth does pick back up, the city will need several years to complete the project. City planners want to avoid a situation of having a shortage of sewage treatment capacity to meet growth needs.

As I said, there is a lot of information in the report, and several additional rate scenarios. Keep an eye on this space for future updates.

• One last City Hall item before commissioners meet tonight: City commissioners are expected to approve about $425,000 worth of year-end bonuses for city employees.

As has become the practice, the city is set to provide a year-end bonus to employees who have at least five years of service with the city. City leaders don’t like it when the program is referred to as a bonus, but it largely meets the definition because the payment is a one-time event, and whether the payment is made is entirely up to the discretion of the City Commission. The city however has made the annual payment every year since at least 1997, so many city employees have come to count on the year-end payment.

City officials call the program its longevity payment program. It pays all employees with at least five years of service with the city $4 for every month they have served with the city, or $48 for each year of service. This year, a record 599 employees qualify for the program. That tops last year’s record of 583 employees. The city’s workforce has shrunk over the last few years, but I believe its turnover rate also has declined. That means there are more longtime employees at the city.

The city is set to pay $424,380 as part of the program this year, which represents about a 3 percent increase from what was paid a year ago.

In past years, tight budgets have caused city commissioners to debate about whether to make the year end payments. But the city’s budget outlook has improved some in 2012, and I’ve heard no concerns from commissioners about the year-end program. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the payments as part of their consent agenda at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight.


somedude20 5 years, 4 months ago

I hope my pay climbs up 28.6% in the next 5 years....How much of a rate increase would there be if the City of L uses that $25 plus million for sports dome and puts it towards the water upgrades?

skinny 5 years, 4 months ago

Ya, for some reason the city thinks money grows on trees! I am living paycheck to paycheck the way it is!

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 4 months ago

I wouldn't mind paying a bit higher water bill if the city water tasted better. But that wasn't mentioned, the only major thing they seem to want to apply the increase to is a sewer project.

Hooligan_016 5 years, 4 months ago

"(Why is there a slightly shaven man staring at you, for instance?)"

I vote beard, Chad.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Heaven forbid people drive to our city once a month and even patronize non- arts related businesses. We wouldn't want to encourage local commerce around here.

Betty Bartholomew 5 years, 4 months ago

Weirdly, I had a dream just the other night about friending you on Facebook to keep up with your writing. ("Twilight Zone" theme here)

Woodstein 5 years, 4 months ago

Chad - Two items: 1) did you ever look into how the city's utilities dept assesses a homeowner's sewer outflow to fairly assign rates? Presently, it's tied to water usage so if a homeowner exceeds a 10,000 gallon monthly average for Dec, Jan, Feb (called slow time by city) you get a lower sewer rate. What if you're a heavy water user but it doesn't flush down your drain but goes into your yard, or winter garden, etc.? All of their estimates are WAGs and we get penalized for flucuating volumes. 2) Did the city reorganize and create a marketing division? I've seen city quotes attributed to Roger Steinbrock and he's identified himself with the city's marketing division. What is this division and it's role?

Nice pix on the blog head.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

That's why they do the averaging during winter months, when people are unlikely to water the yard.

I doubt that exceeding 10,000 gallons/month gets you a "lower" rate.

The whole idea is not to charge people sewer rates for water that doesn't go down the sewer - sort of makes sense to me.

If you had them use all of your water usage to calculate sewer rates, you'd pay more. What's your suggestion, if you have one, for a better system than the one we've got?

lawslady 5 years, 4 months ago

I am an artist myself (in my spare time) and support any idea to help the arts and provide us with better/cleaner water. But.... It is about time that people (including city leaders) realize that you cannot keep taxing people because we want to keep up with the pace of spending established in better economic times. Many/most government employees (and private sector too) haven't had raises in 5 years or more. Why should city employees be any different. As for the other expenses, how about we adopt the same mentality that cash-strapped families must; we need to only spend the money we have on hand, and stop going back to the money tree (taxpayers who themselves are facing higher prices and less spending power). If/when the economy turns around and there are lots of jobs (and money) around, then we can go back to looking for new things to buy and new ways to enhance our city's stature. As it stands right now, we're doing well just to tread water. Stop trying to push our heads under water. I and others who love this town are going to have to move in order to afford food! Or maybe that's what is desired: a new Johnson county where only those making $100,000+ a year reside?

chocolateplease 5 years, 4 months ago

Is paying a year-end bonus common in government? I'm just surprised. It would be interesting to know how many city governments do this. With the added job security and typical generosity of benefits, I thought year-end bonuses were not-the-norm in such jobs. Then again, if these people are truly underpaid, and if the city wants to retain these long-term workers, then I can see the reasoning.

chicago95 5 years, 4 months ago

That estimate of 4000 gallons/month/household seems pretty low for a single family home. Can we get some kind of breakdown? What are the averages for each type of housing (e.g., apartments, etc.) and how many of each go into the citywide average?

The $47.64 cost for 4000 gallons, by the way, breaks down as $15.12 for the water, $3.15 for the meter, $20.08 for the sewer, and $9.29 for the meter. Except that many (most) of us don't have sewage meters. So what gives? The report seems to recommend a 28.6% increase in the fixed charges as well as the marginal rates? That makes the fee regressive, no?

chicago95 5 years, 4 months ago

That estimate of 4000 gallons/month/household seems pretty low for a single family home.
[I see on page 7 of the report ( http://www.lawrenceks.org/assets/agendas/cc/2012/11-20-12/cm_report_ww_cip_options_revenue_requirements.pdf ) that the figure is a median -- not a mean.] What is the average usage for each type of housing unit (e.g., apartments, etc.) and how many of each go into the citywide average?

The $47.64 cost for 4000 gallons, by the way, breaks down as $15.12 for the water, $3.15 for the meter, $20.08 for the sewer, and $9.29 for the meter. Except that many (most) of us don't have sewage meters. So what gives? The report seems to recommend a 28.6% increase in the fixed charges as well as the marginal rates. That makes the fee schedule regressive, no?

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