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City prepares to approve budget tonight, including $62 million worth of road and infrastructure projects

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Here are three things that were discussed frequently on my family's recent weeklong vacation through the northern Plains: Roadwork (there was a lot of it), budgets (there was not enough of those), and "Full House" (for approximately 1,400 miles, episodes of the once popular Olsen twins sitcom played continuously, thanks to an in-car DVD player and my 7-year old daughter.)

It appears that at least two of the three will be topics at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting — hopefully, budgets and roadwork.

Commissioners tonight are set to give final approval to the city's 2014 budget. We've previously reported the basics: A $185 million budget that increases spending by about 6 percent and the city's property tax rate by about 0.5 of a mill. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay about $12 per year extra in property taxes, as a result of the rate increase.

But one important part of the city's budget that doesn't always get a lot of public attention is its list of capital projects that it plans to undertake in the next year. The city has about $15.2 million worth of road projects and other infrastructure purchases on its to-do list in 2014. Here's a look at some of the more notable undertakings:

• $1.7 million for reconstruction of the intersection at 23rd and Iowa streets. Expect new turn lanes and greater vehicle capacity. The project is being funded through state and federal dollars.

• $2 million for the first phase of the 31st Street extension in eastern Lawrence. When completed, the project will extend 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. Work will be going on during the same time that construction is occurring on the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The city will use property taxes to fund the project.

• $2.5 million to rebuild a portion of Wakarusa Drive from Oread West to Legends Drive. Proceeds from the city's infrastructure sales tax will be used to fund the project.

• $42,000 to begin engineering work on a future project to improve Kasold Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Harvard Road.

• $2 million to begin work on a new Maple Street pump station to help alleviate stormwater flooding issues in North Lawrence. Funding will come from the city's infrastructure sales tax.

• $1.5 million to possibly purchase a site or begin design work for a new police headquarters facility. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $400,000 to improve the city's fiber optic and broadband system. The project will improve fiber optic connectivity between city-owned buildings, traffic signals and other structures, but also may put the city in a position to begin offering some of its fiber optic network for use by private broadband providers. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.05 million for renovation of the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence. About $350,000 of the funding will come from property taxes, with the rest coming from a federal/state grant.

• $275,000 to install a traffic signal at George Williams Way and Bob Billings Parkway. The intersection is expected to become significantly busier once the new South Lawrence Trafficway interchange opens on Bob Billings Parkway.

• $750,000 to build a new public transit transfer facility. A temporary facility currently is located downtown, but staff members are exploring an area near the The Merc at Ninth and Iowa streets for a permanent facility. Funding will come from a transit reserve fund.

• $1 million to fund technology upgrades at the city and county's 911 center. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.2 million to replace a quint fire engine. Funding comes from both sales tax and property tax funds.

The really big builders in the city's budget, though, are in the city's Utilities Department. The city has budgeted $47.2 million worth of water and sewer projects in 2014.

A big part of that will be making your water taste better. The city has budgeted $17.9 million worth of work to improve taste and odor issues that occasionally occur when algae blooms become significant at Clinton Lake or on the Kansas River.

I would expect this project will get more discussion before commissioners actually approve any spending on the project. By putting it in the 2014 budget, that gives the city the legal authority to spend the money on the project, but commissioners may still decide that's too much to spend on the intermittent taste and odor issues.

The other big utilities project is $14.8 million worth of work on a new sewage treatment plant for south of the Wakarusa River. This will be a multiyear project. When it is done by 2017, the project is expected to cost about $65 million.

Those projects will be funded by increased water and sewer rates, which also are up for approval at tonight's meeting. The budget proposes an approximately 5 percent increase in the monthly water and sewer bills for an average household. That comes after commissioners approved a 6 percent rate increase in 2013.

A household that uses 8,000 gallons of water a month would pay $76.21 in monthly water and sewer fees, up from $72.34 under the current rates. City staff members have put together a chart that shows how Lawrence's rates compare with other cities in the area. An 8,000 gallon bill ranges from $61.69 in Manhattan to $102.65 in Gardner. Click here to see the full list.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today. This basically is the last chance for the public to make comment about the 2014 budget. Historically, the city's budget discussions haven't produced a full house. But who knows? Maybe it will tonight. I'm fine either way — as long as I don't have to listen to the Olsen twins.

Comments

flloyd 1 year, 11 months ago

Why not repair the roads we already have? The condition of the roads in this town have to be some of the worst in the nation. Don't believe me? Leave the keys to your car at home and ride your bicycle around this town for a week. It is quite hazardous.

Speaking of bicycles...how about adding bike lanes (aka "green" lanes) around town to encourage folks to ride instead of drive? Would help reduce traffic congestion and reduce the super-sized American waist line, too!

Jack Clayton 1 year, 11 months ago

Your post contains too much sound logic and will therefore be ignored by most commenters. The sad fact is the rising majority of Lawrencians don't care about community or sustainability or healthy lifestyles; they just want to be able to drive from their cookie cutter houses to their franchise churches to their bland offices to their corporate retail chains and repeat. The American dream

George_Braziller 1 year, 11 months ago

For a street that's only about 25 years old it seems like Wakarusa has had a lot of rebuilding done to it.

Jack Clayton 1 year, 11 months ago

Sometimes the rest of us need to sacrifice for decades so that others' luxury SUV's don't ever have to encounter a pothole

elliottaw 1 year, 11 months ago

I don't understand the light at bob billings/george william, its a 4 way stop and 2 of the roads right now are pretty much dead ends. I know at some point they want to finish Bob Billings but with that project still off in the future don't waste the money on a light.

nick_s 1 year, 11 months ago

Correct me if I am not understanding properly, but I dont see any provisions for the marketing of Rock Chalk Park to try to attract the 32+ tourneys we will need for this to be a self-sustaining venture. Are we not planning for this in 2014, or will these items be outlined in a Parks & Rec budget or something of the sorts? Wichita is within days of finalizing their own plans for a rec center that aims to tap the youth sports tournament industry, just the same as we are planning. Their complex already includes firm deals with lodging, restaurant & entertainment options, & they are seeking a Cabela's type big box anchor. It seems that we need to get the ball rolling on cementing a logical, useful plan for our own rec center.

jack22 1 year, 11 months ago

It's not self sustaining, it's going to be a huge money pit for the city. Fritzel is the only one that is going to profit from it. The city has said they don't expect it to be profitable and they haven't been at all clear about what the actual maintenance and other costs will be over the next 20 years.

nick_s 1 year, 11 months ago

I cant recall from other articles, but isnt this thing supposed to be open by next summer, making it an issue that we will be dealing with in 2014? If this is the case, shouldnt we be budgeting to support the line item that is currently on the books instead of spreading those dollars to other projects? It just seems that we have a nice new $25 million+ rec center on the way but have no real plan as to how it will be used, managed, & marketed. It seems like we are operating on a "build it & they will come" plan, while Bill Beckner, an industry experts interviewed in a Feb article (http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2013/feb...) is telling us how competitive the industry is & how we better be hooked in with the tourism & visitors bureau in a "real strong" way, & that we "might be able to do that" with regards to 32+ tourneys a year, yet I see no budgeting to allow for this. That is why I am curious if we are planning for this center & why there isnt a line item for the 2014 year?

Jack Clayton 1 year, 11 months ago

Yes, keep pouring money into the new boulevards of West Lawrence, ignoring the old streets that actually need it. Because wherever there are rich white people, that must be our priority area for local improvements. It's not like the East (REAL) side of town is what makes Lawrence Lawrence, after all...

justforfun 1 year, 11 months ago

Except for the property taxes you pay probably dont amount to sh-t. I sure dont have a problem spending more to the west as they spend way more in property taxes. Hows that for keeping it westside REAL???

xyz 1 year, 11 months ago

See Rock Chalk Park info in 2014 proposed budget on pages 114-117 at http://www.lawrenceks.org/assets/budget/2014/2014_recommended_budget_city_of_lawrence.pdf Estimated operations date in the document is June 1, 2014.

Brian Hall 1 year, 11 months ago

If the new transportation hub is going to be located behind the Merc (either right behind it next to the Pool Room or closer to Centennial Street) then 9th Street between Centennial and Iowa will need to be upgraded with turn lanes because traffic already gets backed up there with people trying to turn left into the Merc. Waiting for a bus to turn left will be even worse.

I feel 9th & Iowa needs to be rebuilt anyway. Some ideas: a median to keep people from turning left because clearly the sign saying "No Left Turn" isn't working. Also, either make all right-turning eastbound on 9th traffic use the cut-through and restrict right-turns at the stoplight or eliminate the cut-through.

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