Lawrence doesn’t fare well in ranking of best places for new businesses; numbers show a historic low for Kansas economy
I would think Lawrence is one of the best small cities in America to start a business. After all, even an April snow shoveling business has a chance at success, as we’ve learned recently. But in a new report on the subject, Lawrence doesn’t rank well.
The financial website WalletHub has released its 2018 list of the Best Small Cities to Start a Business. Lawrence ranked No. 653 out of 1,261 cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. So, middle of the pack overall, but Lawrence’s ranking was the second lowest in Kansas.
Here’s a look at the Kansas communities that are ranked:
— Dodge City: No. 132
— Salina: No. 208
— Hutchinson: No. 252
— Manhattan: No. 254
— Garden City: No. 401
— Lenexa: No. 494
— Shawnee: No. 597
— Lawrence: No. 653
— Leawood: No. 968
The good news for Lawrence is it may not be on this list next year. Population growth is pushing it above the 100,000 mark. There are several high-ranking communities on this list that have no worries about that. Dodge City is the best small community in the state to start a business, according to this list, but population growth has struggled there. It has added about 500 people since the 2010 census, or about 2 percent, which is actually better than I thought it would be. It is better than some other places that rank high on the list. Hutchinson — which according to this list is in the top 20 percent of all small cities in the country for starting a business — has seen a population decline of about 400 people since the census.
So, everybody will have to make what they will of the list. In some ways it is counter-intuitive. Communities that have lower median wages and higher unemployment (thus an available labor pool) fare better in some parts of this ranking. Towns like Lawrence, though, should fare well in categories such as education levels and access to higher education.
As you can tell, I have some doubts about the outcomes of this report. But, it is worth noting, but probably not worth worrying too much about. What would be most interesting is why Lawrence and Manhattan rank so differently. In many reports that rely on demographics and other types of community statistics, Lawrence and Manhattan show up as pretty similar.
The report does provide some breakdown of the rankings. Each community was scored in three broad areas:
— Business environment: This category used statistics related to average length of work week, average commute times, growth rate in small business numbers, startups per capita, average growth of business revenues, and industry variety. Lawrence ranked No. 968 out of 1,261. Manhattan was 892, and the best in the state was Dodge City at No. 66.
— Access to Resources: This category used statistics related to small business loans per capita, job openings versus the unemployment rate, access to quality higher education, education levels of the workforce, growth in working-age population, and total job growth figures. Lawrence ranked No. 308 out of 1,261. Manhattan was No. 26 in the country and was the highest-ranked in the state, although Leawood also had an impressive ranking of No. 81.
— Business Costs: This category used statistics related to commercial lease rates, median incomes, corporate taxes and cost of living. Lawrence ranked No. 580 out of 1,261. Manhattan was No. 532. Hutchinson was best in the state at No. 400. Notably, Leawood was near the bottom in the entire country at 1,211. Remember, high incomes don’t cause you to score well in this report. Also, remember that person who just passed you in the Mercedes is from Leawood.
While I wouldn’t spend much time worrying about any of these rankings, I did stumble across some interesting state statistics while I was trying to get more information about some of these WalletHub numbers.
In short, they show that last summer was a historic low point for the Kansas economy in at least one key regard.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a quarterly report related to the number of business establishments that open and close in the state. The most recent report is for June 2017. The report shows that during the second quarter of 2017, there were 18,692 job losses caused by Kansas business establishments that closed. It shows there were 10,204 jobs created by new establishments that opened.
So, the masters of the Kansas economy definitely had their finger on the minus key. But more noteworthy is the 18,692 job losses due to closings was the highest quarterly total since the third quarter of 2002. In other words, not even during the last recession did so many Kansans lose their jobs due to business closings.
But wait, there is more. The 10,204 jobs created by new establishments was the lowest number since at least 1992, which is as far back as the database went for me. A few months were very close to that number, but none actually were that low.
The business environment at a glance didn’t seem that bad in Lawrence last summer, but for the state as a whole, it apparently was feeling a double whammy.
More details emerge on pending west Lawrence retirement community; city set to tackle bus hub question; major changes to 21st Street possible
Plans for a proposed multimillion dollar senior living complex in West Lawrence are becoming clearer. The developer of the property has confirmed it has entered into a contract for an approximately four-acre site near Sixth and Queens Road.
We reported earlier this week that a Minnesota-based development firm was planning to develop a retirement cooperative that would include 52 living units, underground parking and other such amenities at a west Lawrence site. But at the time, the company — Village Cooperative — wasn’t yet ready to disclose the specific location.
Well, the company has now confirmed it has a contract to purchase a 4.1 acre vacant piece of property that is just south of Sixth Street where Queens Road would be if Queens Road extended south of Sixth Street. The property is the vacant piece on the southwest corner of the intersection, not the rural single-family home that sits on the southeast corner of the intersection.
It you want to get even more technical, the property is just north of where Branchwood Drive ends, which creates interesting questions. When the intersection is fully developed, will we have Queens Road on one side of Sixth Street and Branchwood Drive on the other, kind of like the confusion known as 15th Street and Bob Billings Parkway? Or like Legends Drive and Inverness Drive? Will my GPS explode on my dash? Will pizza delivery drivers simply throw boxes of pepperoni pizza in the ditch because they can’t find their intended address? Maybe there is an upside to this. Regardless, such issues are a ways off. Shane Wright, project manager for the co-op project has estimated construction won’t likely begin until next summer, and that is dependent upon the project pre-selling at least half of its units. He’s optimistic, though.
“Lawrence is a community people love living in,” Wright said. “There is pent-up demand for maintenance-free living options. You can find some, but they probably aren’t this type of ownership structure, and they maybe aren’t age restricted. The options in Lawrence right now are pretty limited.”
The company also has released a rendering of what the Lawrence project is expected to look like.
The development group — which is controlled by Minnesota-based Real Estate Equities Development, LLC — has develop about $235 million worth of residential projects, primarily in the Midwest. The company particularly has focused on senior living and the cooperative style of ownership. It has one development open in Johnson County and two more projects planned for construction in the KC metro area.
As we reported earlier this week, the cooperative style of ownership is a bit different for the Lawrence market. Instead of owning your individual unit, like you would in a condo development, you own a share of the entire housing complex. In the case of the Lawrence project — since it would have 52 living units — each owner would own a 1/52 share of the the entire complex. Wright said an advantage of that ownership structure is that the cooperative is responsible for all the maintenance of the property, even for the items that need fixing inside your unit. For example, if the dishwasher breaks, it will be the responsibility of the cooperative to fix or replace it since technically the cooperative owns it.
It will be interesting to see how the development — which will be limited to residents 62 and older — is received in Lawrence. The city certainly is interested in becoming more of a destination for retirees, and that likely will mean developments will have to be designed in ways far different than how we house thousands of students across town. It will be interesting to watch what the market comes up with.
As for these units, Village Cooperative plans to offer units ranging in size from about 870 feet to about 1,500 square feet. Prices, Wright said, likely will be about $75,000 to $125,000 per share. Residents then will pay a monthly fee of about $900 to $1,500 a month, with that fee covering property taxes, maintenance, some utilities and other such items.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is getting close to decision time for Lawrence city commissioners when it comes to a major bus issue. Commissioners need to figure out where the city’s main bus hub is going to be. The decision involves a multimillion dollar construction project, and perhaps more importantly, could go a long way in determining whether voters will be ready to extend a sales tax in coming years to continue funding the transit system.
Commissioners will talk about the subject at their Tuesday evening meeting. At issue will be whether the city should move forward with placing the transit hub — basically the place where most of the buses congregate and transfers are made — near 21st and Iowa streets. Commissioners Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both have expressed concerns about that location. But commissioners at their weekly meeting will receive a report that says transit leaders still believe that is the best location for the approximately $4 million project.
Boley and Herbert both wanted the city to take a harder look at a site near Ninth and Iowa streets, specifically a site in the parking lot behind The Merc. Transit leaders looked at that site once, and liked it, but then talks broke down with the property owner. The new report says they’ve reached out to the property owner again, but the ownership group stated clearly that it doesn’t have an interest in putting a transit hub at the site.
“The owner states the proposed site for the transit center would not be available because of ongoing leases and plans for future development,” the memo stated.
We’ll keep our eyes open for future development plans near Ninth and Iowa.
Meanwhile, that leaves the site near 21st and Iowa streets as the only one the city has on the table for the transit hub. Technically, the site is at 2021 Stewart Ave., which is just south of Fire Station No. 5 along Iowa Street.
If commissioners move forward with that site, though, they’ll likely have to approve some significant changes to 21st Street. Neighbors are concerned the transit hub will create more cut-through traffic on 21st Street. That’s because the bus hub project would require a traffic signal be installed at 21st and Iowa streets. A traffic signal would make 21st Street a pretty handy way to avoid large parts of 23rd Street.
To combat that, the city is contemplating installing a “traffic diverter” device that would stop motorists from turning off Iowa Street and heading east on 21st Street. The diverter would be placed at the intersection of 21st and Stewart Avenue, which means buses could still turn off Iowa Street and get to the transit hub, but no eastbound traffic would get past Stewart Avenue. Motorists wanting to access the portion of 21st Street east of Stewart Avenue would have to detour over to 19th or 23rd Streets and then cut back to 21st Street.
To be clear, though, 21st Street east of Stewart Avenue would continue to be a two-lane street, and westbound traffic on 21st Street would be able to continue on to Iowa Street. The diverter, though, should eliminate any reason for motorists looking for a shortcut to to turn off of Iowa Street onto 21st Street, said Robert Nugent, the city’s transit administrator.
A couple of other traffic-calming devices are planned for 21st Street as well. Nugent said two to three chicanes would be added to the street. Chicanes are basically a place in the road that becomes narrower for a stretch. The intent is the narrowness of the street slows traffic down. Those chicanes would be built at locations east of Stewart Avenue.
We’ll see what commissioners think of the plans. Boley likely will hear a lot about the subject because he lives in the neighborhood near the proposed transit hub. The hub issue has been on the City Commission’s radar for more than a year. A sense of urgency is building for the project, however. The city’s transit system is funded by a pair of sales taxes that were approved by voters in 2008. Those taxes have a 10-year sunset clause, meaning there will need to be another election in 2018, in order to renew the taxes.
Having the transit hub location in place well ahead of that election is desirable. When the city chooses a new transit hub location — currently it is in downtown, which transit leaders say has become too congested — it will have to make major changes to all of its current routes. Transit leaders want to make sure they have all that ironed out and working smoothly before they ask voters to renew a sales tax to fund the system.
The transit sales taxes in 2008 won by a landslide, so you would think that voters would look favorably on them again. But never assume too much. The state is increasing its sales tax rate, and perhaps voters will see a no vote on a transit sales tax as a chance to give themselves a tax cut. Plus, there are some people who still feel the bus service is not convenient enough. Commissioner Matthew Herbert has expressed that concern several times. If that sentiment starts to take hold in the community, that too will affect a sales tax vote.
We’ll see what commissioners do with all this. At this point, it looks like staff is seeking approval for the 21st and Iowa location, but commissioners could choose to open up another search for sites, or decide to keep the bus hub in downtown, despite concerns about the congestion problems the big buses are facing.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Chamber CEO talks VenturePark prospects, other projects; questions raised about arts corridor application ahead of commission vote
Lawrence is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would employ an estimated 125 people over the next five years, and would occupy about 120 acres of property at the former Farmland Industries site that the city has converted into a business park.
I’ve been telling you for a couple of months now that economic development leaders have said they have a strong prospect for the former Farmland site, which is now called Lawrence VenturePark. But at a meeting this morning, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Larry McElwain gave the most details yet about the prospect.
McElwain didn’t provide the name of the company or a specific industry, but McElwain said the bulk of the jobs would be manufacturing in nature. He said the company would look to make a capital investment of about $20 million over five years.
“This is a really exciting company that is looking at us right now,” McElwain said.
McElwain, speaking at an economic development update breakfast, didn’t say when we will know if the company has chosen Lawrence for its new home. But in conversations I have had with other people knowledgeable about the situation, the current talks have been described as negotiations. Now, whether the company is in exclusive negotiations with Lawrence or also is negotiating with other communities, I don’t know.
I would assume the negotiations involve an incentive package to bring the company here, but I don’t know that for a fact. It has been assumed for quite a while that once the city developed VenturePark, it would become more aggressive in putting together packages to lure companies to the site. Other communities in similar situations have offered free or discounted land to companies that will produce quality jobs. We’ll see what is on the horizon here, but it sounds like economic development officials are still very much in the thick of what could be a significant deal. At 125 jobs, that would be one of the larger new employers to come to town in the last decade or so. A 120-acre site also would be a big one by Lawrence standards. That project would consume about a third of the available industrial property the city has at VenturePark.
McElwain provided updates on a few other projects as well. They include:
— An animal health company that wants to initially locate 11 jobs in the Kansas City area. Over five years, it could provide 55 jobs, with most of the positions being technical or managerial in nature and offering “very high salaries,” McElwain said. The company currently is considering the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus, and also is looking at locations in Kansas City.
— An animal health company that is looking for a location to establish its North American headquarters. Initially, the company likely would add 1 to 2 positions, but would add more depending on how its business grows in North America. McElwain said economic development leaders are fielding a large number of inquiries from animal health companies as Kansas City’s reputation as a leader in that industry continues to grow.
“It is amazing the potential for clustering in that industry,” McElwain said. “The University of Kansas is a huge magnet for this, especially the School of Pharmacy.”
— Three local companies currently are considering expansion projects that could in total add more than 100 jobs over the next several years. McElwain said one of the companies is looking at sites in the Kansas City area. He said the companies in question are a mix of manufacturing and technology companies.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A couple of weeks ago, we reported how some East Lawrence residents expressed concern that the Lawrence Arts Center was declining to make public the application the agency submitted to win a $500,000 grant for a project to remake Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor.
Well, as city commissioners prepare to take a vote on the project tonight, the Arts Center has released a redacted version of the full application. It appears some of the new information released has created more questions for some East Lawrence residents who are trying to get a better understanding of the project in their neighborhood.
The application states in multiple places that the Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. would serve as the lead designer on the project. That’s despite the fact that el dorado inc. had not been selected yet by the city to serve as the lead designer on the project. In fact, the vote that is set to take place tonight is to authorize city staff to begin negotiating a contract with el dorado. The city is recommending el dorado receive the contract because a city-appointed committee selected it from six design teams that had submitted proposals.
The grant application was not made available to the city-appointed committee reviewing the potential design firms. At least one member of the city-appointed committee is now saying he thinks the application creates the perception that Arts Center officials wanted el dorado to lead the project all along.
Dave Loewenstein, a longtime East Lawrence resident and artist, said too many residents already have a perception that some city projects have involved “back room deals.” Loewenstein, who currently is out of town on a project, said he hopes commissioners will be convinced tonight to delay the project.
“I feel our city commissioners must postpone their vote on selecting a firm for this project until we have an opportunity to look further into how and why the city went forward with a competitive RFQ process even though a design firm had already been explicitly named as a project leader,” Loewenstein said in an e-mail.
Susan Tate, the director of the Lawrence Arts Center, said the application wasn’t meant to convey that el dorado inc. had been selected as the lead designer for the project. Instead, the name was meant as an example of the type of firm that would be leading the project. But nowhere in the application does it state that the decision on the design team was still pending.
Tate said it is common practice for arts organizations to list specific artists or designers as part of its grant application. In hindsight, Tate said she wishes she would have written the grant in a way to make it clear that el dorado was just an example of the caliber of company that would be hired for the project.
In addition, Tate seemingly misspoke when she was interviewed by the Journal-World about the subject in early November. At that time she said she had provided the City Commission and the public with a “word-for-word” version of the portion of the grant application that described the project. But upon further review, the document provided to the City Commission did have a slight change in wording. It removed any mention of el dorado inc. and instead simply said “ArtPlace will fund a professional Urban Planner to lead Creative Team . . .” The application that was actually submitted to the ArtPlace grant funders said “ArtPlace will fund el dorado architects to lead Creative Team . . .”
Tate said she didn’t intend to misspeak, and said the mention of el dorado was removed from the document released to the public because it would have been difficult to conduct a competitive request for proposals if the description of the project included a specific design firm. She said city officials were not aware that the ArtPlace grant application listed el dorado as the lead designer.
Tate expressed confidence that all six companies that applied for the city contract were given a fair chance at winning the proposal, and she said he entered the process with an open mind about who should be selected.
We’ll see what commissioners do with the issue tonight when they meet at 6:35 p.m. It is an unusual issue. Folks in the nonprofit world note that grant applications usually aren’t made public. But several people have noted this may be a different case because the $500,000 grant is only a small portion of what is needed to convert Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor. The city also will need to budget about $3 million worth of improvements to the street.
Former Pachamamas building to become event gallery; downtown landlords looking at solar project for Mass. Street rooftops; park near 19th and Haskell set to honor firefighters, former Chief McSwain
• Let me just start with this: If I hit a golf ball into your wedding party, I’m sorry. But I hope you’ll let me play through. (I also hope you’re distracted enough that I’ll be able to steal a piece of cake.)
A wedding party along a beautiful Lawrence golf course is a service the country clubs in town have been offering forever and a day. But soon there will be another player in that market.
Longtime Lawrence financial planner Wayne McDaniel has finalized a deal to purchase the former Pachamamas restaurant building at 2161 Quail Creek Drive.
If you remember, before Pachamamas moved to its current downtown location on New Hampshire Street several years ago, it got started in a unique building behind the Hy-Vee at Clinton Parkway and Kasold.
The building backs up to part of the Alvamar Golf Course. (I think it backs up to the public course, but I get confused because with my swing I sometimes inadvertently play both courses in the same round.)
McDaniel plans to convert the building into Arterra Event Gallery. McDaniel said the business will host weddings, receptions, corporate events and anything else of that nature.
Work is starting now to remodel the inside to make it a bit more of a wide open space. Once that is completed, McDaniel said he expects the venue will be able to accommodate events of about 250 people.
McDaniel — who will continue to operate his McDaniel Knutson Financial Partners business — has hired a manager to run the day-to-day operations of the event gallery. He expects the facility will start hosting events in March.
McDaniel said the building, which has been empty for at least six years, has long intrigued him.
“I have always loved architecture and I have looked at that building for three or four years,” McDaniel said. “I would tell myself that I love that building, but I wish I could figure out some way to use it.”
McDaniel said upon some reflection he thought an event business would do well because the location is easy to get to, it has its own parking, and the building has a “rustic elegance” to it that should create a good ambiance for a variety of events.
I can only think of one potential downside to the location: It may cause my wife to start caddying my golf games. If she thinks there is a chance for cake, she’ll be there.
• An interesting place to be in future months may be atop the roof of Sunflower Bike Shop or Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. Both buildings are owned by groups led by longtime downtown landlords David and Susan Millstein.
The couple is working on an idea to put a large number of solar panels on their two buildings. Plans have been filed at City Hall for the Sunflower Bike and Outdoor Shop building, 804 Massachusetts St., and Susan confirmed to me that the Liberty Hall building also may be in the works.
According to the plans at City Hall, the Sunflower building could house about 60 solar panels on the roof. The only thing I know about electricity is that I’m not going to touch the red wire again, but I think that is a fairly sizable solar project.
Susan Millstein said David had more of the details and that the plans were still a bit in flux. But I hope to hear from him, and will pass along more details when I get them.
But it could be an interesting project for downtown. With the new hydroelectric power plant on the northern edge of downtown on the Kansas River, the area may have the makings to start marketing itself as a green energy district. (I’m not sure what a green energy district is, but it sure sounds like something you would market in today’s age.)
I’ve long thought the roofs of downtown buildings are destined to get more attention. I’ve thought it would be as rooftop dining areas, but perhaps it will be as solar panel fields. Or maybe they can be both. I could get a tan while I sip my cocktail.
• Town Talk will take a couple of days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and will return on Monday. But while we’re in the Thanksgiving mood, here is a brief item about how the city is getting closer to approving a project that would thank a group of public servants: firefighters.
Leaders with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are set to forward a recommendation to city commissioners to use the park at 19th and Haskell to remember area firefighters.
The park currently doesn’t have a name, but rather is just a bit of an open field with some playground equipment and a basketball goal.
But the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is now recommending it be named Firefighters Remembrance Park. The idea came from Rachel McSwain, the widow of longtime Lawrence fire chief Jim McSwain.
The park is adjacent to the city’s firefighting training facility. Rachel McSwain said current Lawrence fire chief Mark Bradford had mentioned the idea to her at Chief McSwain’s funeral in 2008.
The plan is the park would have a plaque recognizing McSwain and his contributions to the city after serving 27 years as the city’s fire chief.
But in addition, other people will be allowed to make donations to the parks department to sponsor benches, trees or other park amenities in memory or recognition of firefighters. Each donation likely would come with its own plaque naming the firefighters being honored.
Parks leaders are finalizing some of those types of details and then plan to forward the recommendation for final approval by city commissioners.
Originally Rachel McSwain and her family had suggested naming the park after Chief McSwain. Parks and Recreation officials, however, pitched this broader idea to the family. When the city’s parks board recently gave its recommendation, a tearful McSwain said she was “thrilled” with the idea.
“All of the McSwain family has been very supportive of the idea,” Rachel said. “It is going to be great.”
Here’s hoping you all have a great and safe Thanksgiving, and that you get to thank everyone who is important to you.
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.