Opinions

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by Murrel Bland

First the good news: The Kansas City, Kan., Board of Utilities doesn’t see a reason to increase its rates for water during 2015 and 2016.

Now the bad news: the utility plans to increase its electric rates 5 percent in 2015 and another 5 percent in 2016.

Half of that increase would be needed because of federal requirements that utilities reduce emissions. The other half would be because of the anticipated cost-of-living.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring all utilities with the same message—cut the emissions from coal-fired plants.

To resolve this problems, the BPU will shift its Quindaro power plant from coal to natural gas. The BPU owns 17 percent of Dogwood natural gas wells in Cass County, Mo.

The Nearman power plant, which was built in 1981, will be retrofitted so it doesn’t emit as many particles.

The BPU is subject to the Kansas City Ozone Maintenance Plan that requires lower nitric and sulfur oxide emissions at its Nearman plant. There is also a system at Nearman that removes mercury and other particulates from the air.

Don Gray, the general manager of the BPU, spoke recently at a breakfast meeting. Most of those who attended were major BPU ratepayers. Gray said that BPU employees have not received any salary increase for about the past two years.

The BPU is required to publish its intent to increase rates and hold hearings. The Black and Veatch engineering firm of Overland Park is conducting a rate study.

Gray said that BPU has 566 employees—92 less than what it had 10 years ago. Forty years ago, BPU had more than 1,200 employees. BPU’s annual budget is about $300 million.

Gray said that the United States is responsible for only about 1 percent of the world’s pollution; the big polluters are China and India. However, the EPA said the United States must set a good example.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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Window on the West
by Mary Rupert

The Unified Government is trying to work out a plan that will advance the new South Patrol police station project near 21st and Metropolitan Avenue.

The state has decided against putting a parole office there, where it might have leased space from the UG, and so the financing part of the station now will be reworked. The topic was discussed at a UG public works standing committee meeting last week, where commissioners decided to keep working on it, and financing for the project next will be discussed at a UG economic development and finance standing committee meeting Sept. 8.

The new public safety building is on a remediated former Structural Steel site, where a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market will open next week. The state parole office earlier had proposed to move to near 7th and State in downtown Kansas City, Kan., next to a preschool, but that decision was changed after opposition from community residents and legislators.

At the meeting last week, Bob Roddy of the public works department said the state was dissatisfied with the proposed cost of rent at the public safety building in Argentine. At some places, the state receives free rent, he said. It wasn’t that the UG would be charging unreasonable rent, but that the amount wouldn’t work in the state’s budget, he said.

The amount was reportedly $40 per square foot, and then was down to $20. But the most the state pays elsewhere to lease parole offices is about $12 per square foot, according to sources.

While apparently there was no agreement yet for the state to stay at its current location near I-70 and 18th Street, the state was still in negotiations to stay on 18th Street as of last week’s meeting.

Roddy told the UG commissioners that the notice of need for designing the public safety building had already gone out, but now had to be withdrawn, as the UG reevaluates the project, its size and the finances. The UG has received a $400,000 economic development grant from the state for the project, and it will still be in effect, according to UG officials.

UG Administrator Doug Bach told the commission last week that the UG thinks it can build the public safety building, without the parole office. The UG would be looking for $2 million or $2.5 million. There is a tax increment financing district with the project and revenues will flow into the district in six or seven years, based on projections, he said. The general fund obligation would be expected to be less than a million dollars for the project, he said.

There was support at the committee level for moving the project forward, and Commissioner Ann Murguia, who has backed the project from the start, said she thinks there will be enough commission support for it.

She added that she was totally taken off guard and surprised by the state’s backing out of the project.

At least two controversial subjects were addressed at the standing committee meeting last week. One was a rumor that a state legislator from Wyandotte County had encouraged the state to back out of the project.

One of the residents who spoke at the standing committee meeting mentioned Sen. Pat Pettey’s name, and I called Sen. Pettey this week to ask her about it. She said she did not have anything to do with the state backing out of this project. She said she had attended some meetings about the public safety building, and for the most part, residents were in favor of it, with just a few expressing opposition. She said it wasn’t likely that a Democratic senator, in the minority party, could have that much influence with the Republican state government.

The other issue was the idea mentioned by Commissioners Mike Kane and Murguia that a new downtown redevelopment for the old Katz building with $1.5 million in funding will just be a coffee shop on Minnesota Avenue, and so is not as important as the public safety building.

I personally don’t see development projects in an “either-or” framework. Any redevelopment downtown is likely to result in an improvement of the downtown Kansas City, Kan., economy, and likely to spur the location of other businesses there eventually, if not immediately. Anything that helps one area of the community is likely to help the other areas as it will eventually produce more tax dollars for the community. It’s hard to say which one is more important, in the long run. If economic development spurs more jobs, it might result in less crime, also. Asking which one is better, the new police station or the renovated building downtown, seems rather pointless because the needs are all around us in all areas. The UG probably should have been working on all of them already.

However, I do realize that it’s often the commission’s difficult task to rank the projects that will receive the local government’s support, and it’s an important task. At this time, it is apparent that the south part of the community is overdue for a better police station.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

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by Cathi Hahner

Another successful Wyandotte County Back to School Fair was held Aug. 9 at two locations simultaneously; the Kansas City Kansas Community College and the Boys and Girls Club Wyandotte County Unit.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers at each location who worked to ensure a wonderful event.

The University of Kansas Medical Center recruited physicians, nurses and students to see that sports physicals were offered to families. The medical center along with the Unified Government Public Health Department provided the opportunity to get immunizations for children, a necessity for starting school.

Library books and approximately 5,000 backpacks with basic school supplies were distributed.

This event was made possible through the dedication and hard work of volunteers. Thanks to the volunteers on the planning committee who worked many months and countless hours in planning.

The planning committee has representatives from the community, USD 500, United Health Care, K State Extension, DCF, Health Department, KUMC, the United Way of Wyandotte County, Kansas Gas, Kansas City, Kan., Public Libraries, Widows Sons Lodge No. 17, the Women’s Chamber, BPU, KCKCC and MOCSA.

Thank you to the many volunteers young and old who responded to the plea to fill the backpacks.

Volunteers helped collect school supplies at the local Walmart, giving up part of their weekend to help. Kids and grandkids worked side by side with parents and grandparents. Corporate volunteers, RSVP members, church groups, families and individuals all worked together over three days to make the event happen.

The day of the event, volunteers helped register each family, distribute backpacks and library books, made sure those waiting had water to drink and served lunch to all visitors. Of course, volunteers helped set-up for the event, keep the venue trash free and helped take down after the event.

More than 550 volunteer hours were contributed on Saturday alone and another 280 contributed the week of the event. With the value of one volunteer hour equaling $22.14 that means the financial effect of the volunteers helping with the BTSF was more than $18,300.00.

Thank you, to all those who helped with the Wyandotte County Back To School Fair. Without your hard work and support this event would not be possible.

Planning for 2015 Back to School Fair has already started. Please consider serving on the planning committee, making a donation or volunteering the week of the event.

For more information on how you can give, advocate and volunteer, contact me at 913-371-3674 or chahner@unitedway-wyco.org. You can find volunteer opportunities by checking out the website, www.unitedway-wyco.org and click on Volunteer.

Cathi Hahner is the director of volunteer services at the United Way of Wyandotte County.

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