Daily Archives: Dec. 20, 2011

Council approves Genesis deal for health club at city’s Ice Center

The Wichita City Council has approved a deal for Genesis Health Clubs to build and operate a workout facility at the city-owned Wichita Ice Center.

A consultant for the project said Genesis will not give Genesis members discounts to use the Ice Center facility.

The plan calls for the city to float a bond to borrow $750,000 to remodel the second floor of the Ice Center into a health club. Genesis will pay off the bond debt and provide the exercise equipment and manage the facility for the city.

As its management fee, Genesis will keep 95 percent of the receipts from monthly passes and 80 percent of receipts from day-use fees.

Representatives of youth hockey and figure skating questioned the plan, saying it could limit opportunities for major regional or national competitions.

However, Genesis owner Rodney Steven said the glass partition walls and exercise equipment could be easily rolled out of the way to accommodate major events.

Democrats unveil ‘Kansas Jobs First’ proposal

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, talks about the Kansas Jobs First proposal at the Statehouse Tuesday.

TOPEKA — Kansas Democrats said this morning that a casino in southeast Kansas and slot machines at three racetracks could help pay for programs that increase the state’s odds of adding jobs.

The “Kansas Jobs First” proposal includes 14 bills lawmakers plan to introduce during the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. The plan aims to ensure state spending goes to companies that employ Kansans; improve training programs; fix aging infrastructure and protect workers.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, acknowledged that his party’s plans face an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated legislature, but he and others said they believe their proposals will get bipartisan support.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said there has been a lot of attention focused on school finance, Medicaid reform, tax policy and others. “But there’s no more important issue, we believe, for the legislature to spend its time on than the issue of creating jobs for the people of Kansas,” he said.

Hensley said the economy has begun to recover from the recession, but more than 50,000 Kansas workers are still unemployed.

“Families are still struggling to keep a roof over their head, to pay for their child’s doctor bills, to keep their gas tank full,” Hensley said during a news conference in the Statehouse. “Workers are stuck in low-wage jobs because they lack the money or time to obtain the skills that will help them find work at a higher wage.”

The proposal calls for state gambling laws to lower the $200 million investment threshold required to open a casino to $100 million. Democratic leaders say that $200 million minimum has prevented Southeast Kansas from getting a destination casino. The plan would also modify thresholds for slot machines at racetracks to help re-open racetracks in Crawford, Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties.

One proposal would use some gaming revenues for repairs at state universities and to fund city and county infrastructure projects, such as repairing crumbling sidewalks and aging sewer systems. Under the proposal, 50 percent of the state’s Expanded Lottery Act Revenues Fund money would pay for deferred maintenance projects at Regents facilities and 20 percent of the cash would go toward city and county infrastructure.

Democrats say industry estimates show opening three existing racetracks would generate $33 million per year for the state and that opening a new casino in Southeast Kansas would add $11 million per year. But Gov. Sam Brownback has said he doesn’t want the legislature to tackle the issue because it distracts too much from other pressing issues, including his proposals for tax policy, school financing, Medicaid reform and an overhaul of the state’s pension system — all of which Brownback is pressing for in an election year where lawmakers are grappling with redistricting.

Another bill would accelerate projects in the T-Works program, which Democrats say is slated to spend $440 million next year and $237 million in 2013 on road projects across the state. Their bill would push forward at least $50 million of that work by putting out for bid in February any projects that already have engineering complete.

Hensley said the T-Works acceleration proposal should have a lot of support. He said it is projected to create 175,000 jobs over 10 years. “That is a big deal for the state of Kansas,” he said. “And if we can accelerate that program, we’re going to create jobs much sooner than would have been otherwise. And I think that’s something that should definitely have bipartisan support during this legislative session.”

Hensley said Democrats researched and prepared their proposals with input from the business and labor communities.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka

The Democrats’ full set of proposals would cost $11.1 million from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2013. But it is projected to generate $5.4 million in 2014 and $15.4 million in 2015. The revenue hinges entirely on gambling income.

Davis said Democrats were very conservative in their estimates, especially with gaming revenue.

Here’s a fiscal breakdown Democrats provided. Read More »

Reluctant council sets Feb. 28 for election on hotel subsidy referendum

UPDATE: The Wichita City Council has just voted to hold the referendum election on Feb. 28.

The decision was 6-1 with council member Lavonta Williams in dissent.

The council expressed reluctance to wait that long but approved the election date after Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told the council that the time was needed to avoid errors and to mail ballots to military voters overseas and in other states.

Lehman said it would be “ill advised” to try to hold the election sooner.

The Wichita City Council just pushed back taking a vote on setting the date for a referendum election on a subsidy for a downtown hotel, saying they want the vote sooner than the election commissioner’s office has said it could hold it.

A letter from the county counsel’s office said the soonest that the election commissioner could hold the citywide public vote would be Feb. 28.

Council members said they want the vote to come sooner because they believe an extended campaign will slow development downtown and elsewhere.

At stake is an estimated $2.25 million subsidy for the planned Ambassador Hotel, a 117-room, $22.5 million boutique hotel planned for the former Union National Bank building at Douglas and Broadway. The money to fund the subsidy would come from allowing the hotel to keep 75 percent of the bed tax paid by hotel guests for 15 years.

The subsidy was forced to a public election by a petition drive, led by the free-market group Americans for Prosperity.

Petitioners gathered 2,719 signatures of verified Wichita voters to force a vote, more than the 2,527 signatures needed.

The council today has to either repeal the subsidy or set an election date.

But the council members weren’t happy with the Feb. 28 date and pushed the item to the end of the agenda.

They asked their staff to contact Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman and ask her to come to the council meeting to discuss setting an eariler election date.

Check back for updates.