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Lawrence city manager reveals Prairie Park Nature Center won’t be cut from budget

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Spoiler alert: The revised budget that Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens will release Thursday will not recommend shuttering Prairie Park Nature Center.

That was one big takeaway from his Q&A session with the Sustainability Advisory Board on Wednesday.

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Multiple board members also asked Owens about staffing of the sustainability office. They emphasized that they would like to see the city hire a sustainability analyst — and if not a new position, at least a permanent sustainability director. Kathy Richardson has held the role of interim director since shortly after previous director Jasmin Moore left near the end of 2021.

Owens also revealed that the city plans to give Richardson the permanent position.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long for us to get that done,” Owens told the board, “and I apologize to her and to you for that … Three of you have asked me about this, so I’ll just break that tape.”

City Manager Craig Owens announced Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022 that Kathy Richardson, the city’s interim sustainability director, will be named as the permanent director. (Screenshot / City of Lawrence YouTube)

The Lawrence City Commission in July heard from more than five dozen community members about the first draft of the 2023 budget. The vast majority asked the commission not to go through with a plan to close the Prairie Park Nature Center, for an estimated annual savings of $337,000.

Many others asked the city to leave all of its funding for the Lawrence Humane Society intact following a proposal to cut its funding by about 27%, or by $100,000. Owens did not name a specific amount, but he said Wednesday that cut would also be reduced.

However, he said, that does mean other areas will face cuts — and the plan “doesn’t really come up with a lot of solutions on other places where the community will say ‘yes, please reduce this.'”

The updated budget will be released Thursday with other materials for the Lawrence City Commission’s Tuesday, Aug. 16 meeting, Owens said. Keep an eye out for that on the city’s website.

Board member Mattie Bell raised concerns about the city’s plan to move forward with a multimodal transfer facility to use methane gas, rather than being built all-electric. Bell asked about how the SAB could be more involved in decisions like that, and how the city was prioritizing sustainability in decision-making.

Owens said the city is trying to balance a number of factors with everything it does, and sustainability is one of numerous priorities, but he thinks the city should adopt an energy efficiency standard or threshold. Some cities adhere to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, he said.

“It’s an adopted and achievable standard, it and it can be calculated into the budget, and yet it provides that guidance. I think we need specificity,” Owens said.

For the current budget process, board member Steven Cramer asked for Richardson to let the board know how they can work proactively to help her come up with recommendations and alternatives.

“You have some really, really interesting qualifications and expertise, which is why the City Commission asked you to serve, and so let’s put that to work,” Owens said.

In an update on older business, Richardson said she’s working with city legal staff on refining the plastic bag ordinance the SAB has been working on, as well as a noxious weed ordinance.

The SAB meets at 5:30 p.m. the second Wednesdays of each month.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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