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Tofu maker seeking location in rural Douglas County; city now looking at 0.2 percent sales tax proposal; City Hall discussion of payday loan regulations

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Perhaps you have noticed that you now have to take out a home equity loan to have a pot roast for dinner, and my banker asked me if Warren Buffett was my uncle or something when I brought up the possibility of a steak. The point is, beef prices have soared, but there is one Lawrence company that may benefit if consumers begin looking for an alternative.

Lawrence-based Central Soy Foods is moving to a new location in rural Douglas County to give it better space to make its tofu and tempeh products. The company has filed plans with the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office for a conditional use permit to build about a $100,000 addition onto a rural Douglas County home at 1168 East 1500 Road. The addition would serve as production space for the company that has about five part-time employees.

If you are like me — someone who carries an extra piece of meat around in your pocket just to make sure you don’t have a shortage — you may not be familiar with Central Soy Foods. But it's been around since 1978. A group led by longtime Douglas County businessman David Millstein purchased the company in 2003. It now produces weekly about 2,000 pounds of tofu and tempeh, a soy product that incorporates mushroom spores.

The company currently has production space on East 22nd Street, and Millstein said the proposed move isn’t so much about expansion as it is about having a more efficient location. Currently, the company is in a building that has a roofing company on one side and auto body shop on the other, which keeps the Central Soy staff busy maintaining the necessary sanitary standards.

But Millstein said the company already has enough equipment to more than double its production. Now, the company is just monitoring whether tofu consumption in the Lawrence and Kansas City region has room to grow.

“I think it is growing a little bit right now,” Millstein said. “It should. The price of beef is so high right now. You can get tofu for around $3 a pound or a little less.”

But Millstein said the company doesn’t have any plans to grow the geographic region it serves.

“We like what we’re doing,” Millstein said. “We like the regional aspect of it, and the freshness of it.”

The company currently sells its products in Lawrence at pretty much all the grocery stores in town, and also in the Hen House, Whole Foods, and several other chains in the Kansas City metro area.

As for our friends in the beef industry, the run-up in prices has been just short of amazing. A recent article in Beef Magazine (excuse me while I day dream of the holiday employee meal at Beef Magazine) estimated that owners were receiving an extra $585 per head for fed cattle compared to this time last year. Although that is not fun at the grocery store, Kansas is still one of the larger producers of beef cattle in the country, so you have to figure the state’s economy is getting a nice boost right now.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Don’t forget to factor in the sales tax when you are filling out that loan application for the ground round. Lawrence residents will have a hard time forgetting sales taxes over the next few months because there will be a proposed sales tax increase on the November ballot to pay for a new police headquarters building.

But as we indicated earlier this week, the proposal is changing. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners will consider placing a 0.2 percent sales tax increase on the November ballot. Previously, commissioners had been considering a 0.25 percent sales tax on the ballot. The 0.2 percent increase would last for nine years, or until the police headquarters is paid for, whichever comes first. City staff also notes that a 0.25 percent sales tax rate would likely pay for the project in eight years. But based on what I’ve heard from city commissioners, they like the 0.2 percent and nine year option. They like the idea of being able to present a lower rate to voters. Indeed, that does work out mathematically to be a better deal for consumers. For example, assume the average fellow makes $20,000 a year in taxable purchases in Lawrence. That’s $160,000 in purchases over 8 years. At a 0.25 percent rate that is an extra $400 in taxes over the total eight-year period. Use the same $20,000 per year estimate, but change the rate to 0.2 percent for nine years, and the total tax increase falls to $360.

As for how Lawrence’s sales tax rate will stack up with other communities if a 0.2 percent rate increase is approved, the city’s general sales tax rate would rise to 8.9 percent. In the two places where a special taxing district exists — The Oread hotel and the retail area at northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa, the sales tax would be 9.9 percent. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s general sales tax rate would compare to several other cities in the state. (Note: This assumes these other cities also don’t raise their sales tax rates.)

— Baldwin City: 8.4 percent

— Unincorporated Douglas County: 7.15 percent

— Eudora: 8.15 percent

— Kansas City: 8.775 percent

— Kansas City Legends shopping area: 9.375 percent

— Leawood: 8.5 percent

— Lenexa: 8.75 percent

— Manhattan: 8.4 percent

— Olathe: 8.875 percent

— Ottawa: 8.75 percent

— Overland Park: 8.5 percent

— Overland Park Oak Park Mall district: 9 percent

— City of Shawnee: 8.625 percent

— Tonganoxie: 8.9 percent

— Topeka: 8.8 percent

• There may be one other rate that gets attention at Lawrence City Hall: The interest rate that payday loan businesses charge their customers. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, director of the food bank Just Food, has expressed concern that some payday lenders are having a negative impact on low-income residents. The city attorney’s office has prepared a memo on what regulations exist in the payday loan industry in the state. That memo questions whether the city would have the legal authority to create local regulations that could place a cap on the interest rates such lenders could charge. But, it may still come up for discussion at the City Commission.

In general, payday lenders can’t charge an interest rate above 15 percent, and the loan must be between 7 and 30 days. If the borrower is late in paying back the loan, the payday companies can charge 3 percent of the loan amount each month. But there are also other types of loans, “open ended credit agreements” that aren’t technically considered a payday loan by state regulations, and those don’t have an interest rate cap.

Some area cities do require payday lenders to get a local business license, but I’m not sure what additional protections that license process would create for consumers. I’ll report back if it looks like the idea is going to get a hearing before commissioners.

Comments

Phil Minkin 8 months, 4 weeks ago

In general "payday" loan companies are predatory and nothing more that legal versions of Mafia loan sharks. Anything the city can do to protect people is important.

Clark Coan 8 months, 4 weeks ago

I knew a senior citizen (who only had social security and a small pension) who took out payday loans in every venue in town at about 190% interest. The interest and penalties built up to thousands of dollars and then upon the advice of his attorney, he defaulted. The attorney said social security is exempt from attachment and that the county attorney doesn't prosecute failure to pay payday loans plus the companies usually don't take customers to small claims courts (though they turn the debts over to collection agencies)..

Brad Hightower 8 months, 4 weeks ago

If Jeremy makes it tough on the payday loan businesses in town the same folks he says are most negatively impacted will need to find other sources for a loan. Maybe in another city, or even worse, on the internet.

Richard Heckler 8 months, 4 weeks ago

FRONTLINE

"You could not crowd animals into these feedlots or feed them this highly concentrated ration without giving them antibiotics. But the antibiotics, in turn, lead to resistance; resistant microbes that then come and infect us."

What do you mean?

By the time a modern American beef cow is six months old, it has seen its last blade of grass for the rest of its life. As soon as they wean, they spend the first six months out on the pasture with their moms, nursing, nibbling grass. The mom is converting the grass's protein that's turning into milk for the animal, doing the way they've done it for millions of years. We take them off grass. We put them in pens, called backgrounding pens, and we teach them how to eat something that they are not evolved to eat, which is grain, and mostly corn.

Why do we do this? Well, it's a very good question, because it makes absolutely no sense from an ecological standpoint. From a financial standpoint, it does. It makes them grow much more quickly. It makes them get fat, and we like our meat really fat and marbled. And it allows us to speed up the lifespan. In capitalism, time is money.

We're taking cows that we used to let grow to be four or five years old before we eat them [and] we've got it down to 14 months, and we're heading toward 11 months. What allows us to do this is getting them [on] corn.

The problem with this system, or one of the problems with this system, is that cows are not evolved to digest corn.

You start giving them antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you've disturbed their digestion, and they're apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. That's how you get in this whole cycle of drugs and meat. By feeding them what they're not equipped to eat well, we then go down this path of technological fixes, and the first is the antibiotics.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

Allison Buffington 8 months, 4 weeks ago

If you are interested in learning about feed lots, please read this fact sheet created by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Members of the Cattlemen's Association raise cattle themselves, unlike the author of the article in the link above who is a journalist from New York City.

http://www.beefusa.org/uDocs/Feedlot%20finishing%20fact%20sheet%20FINAL_4%2026%2006.pdf

Ron Holzwarth 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Or you could ask someone who grew up in a farming and ranching family, like me for example.

Michelle Reynolds 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Payday loans aren't as bad as credit card companies. One late pay and your interest rate jumps To over 19%. Then if you don't watch they slowly add annual fees. Credit card companies should be regulated heavily!

Chris Ogle 8 months, 4 weeks ago

What did people do when the Payday Loan Companies didn't exist???

Richard Heckler 8 months, 4 weeks ago

Local family farmers are a good choice. If you know them this is who consumers should deal with.

Kansas has become home to many corporate farms which will choose feed lots without blinking an eye. This unfortunately represents the lions share of meat sold just about anywhere. Which was the focus of FRONTLINE.

Eat local because you can.

Richard Heckler 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Central Soy Foods which has been around since 1978 with David and Sue Millstein pretty much leading the way is a fine organization. David and Sue are equipped with plenty of business savvy and they understand how to make things work.

All concerned want Central Soyfoods to work with good reason. The Tofu and Tempeh are fine products to be associated with.

Thank you board members for keeping Central Soyfoods alive and well.

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