Archive for Monday, June 15, 2009

Commissioners want to create position to examine energy efficiency and promote county

June 15, 2009

A new joint city-county position to examine energy efficiency and promote Douglas County to green energy companies has gained backing from a divided County Commission.

Commissioners Nancy Thellman and Mike Gaughan said Monday that even during the current economic recession the new sustainability coordinator position — estimated to cost $80,000 per year including benefits — would be critical as local governments examine how they conduct business.

“We’ll realize financial savings as well as the environmental benefits, as well as some economic development stimulation by having someone whose job it is to go out and make the green initiative real for us,” Thellman said.

The Lawrence City Commission has already unanimously decided to seek up to $100,000 in federal stimulus dollars to fund the position for one year. The county would pick up the tab for the second year. In subsequent years, the county would pay 60 percent of the cost, and the city would pay 40 percent.

The coordinator would have a wide range of responsibilities, including examining energy efficiency standards on government buildings and promoting Lawrence and Douglas County to companies in the green energy and product industries.

County Commissioner Jim Flory said he could not commit to creating the new position during tough economic times. He noted the county has frozen employee raises for the year, and commissioners face other difficult decisions as the county sets its 2010 budget.

“I look at this as a want rather than a need in these current times,” Flory said.

He asked if existing county and city staff members could take on some of the responsibilities that would be handled by the new position. County Administrator Craig Weinaug said some energy efficient measures could be implemented while other areas, such as encouraging local food systems in the community, could not.

Gaughan said job creation in the community should be a major goal of the position, including coordinating with area universities and school districts. Thellman and Gaughan said that without the position they feared the area could miss out on grants available from stimulus funds.

“It’s a tough time to do this, and I take responsibility for pushing for it at an awkward time,” Thellman said. “My sense is that it’s worth pushing for.”

The city and county hope to fill the position by Sept. 1.

Also on Monday, county commissioners authorized Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical to purchase two new ambulances at a total cost of $390,000. About $258,000 of the funds would come from an equipment reserve, and the rest would be worked into the department’s budget for 2010, Weinaug said.

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