Friday, August 24, 2007

Several states make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get licenses

Last Sunday, The Eagle reported on new state laws that make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.

For a look at what other states are doing, check out this new piece that explores a "handful of states that issue licenses to illegal immigrants are stepping up efforts to combat fraud and identity theft. That means stricter rules for ensuring immigrants live in-state and are who they say they are."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

See Sedgwick County's 50 most hazardous railroad crossings

Some of the railroad crossings with the most potential for train-vehicle collisions will probably go years without an significant changes. But city council member Jim Skelton has been turning up the volume of the debate.

Known for his vocal persistence on specific projects in southeast Wichita, Skelton is pressing local, state and federal officials to elevate the tracks over Pawnee Avenue where about 38 Burlington Northern-Santa Fe trains pass each day. The intersection has flashing lights and gates, but it has the highest hazard index rating in Sedgwick County because of the volume of trains and the 20,536 vehicles that pass over the tracks on average each day. It's unclear when, if ever, a multi-million dollar project will be started to raise the tracks. But when the city council approved its 10-year spending plan earlier this month, it appeased Skelton by pulling plans for a crossing improvement for a Union Pacific crossing at Pawnee and replacing it with a generalized placeholder -- that means the dollars won't be dedicated to a specific project and leaves the door open to shift money to the BNSF crossing.

Meanwhile, the first phase of the elevated central rail corridor going through downtown will be completed sometime in September. Then the next phase will begin. When it's done, the city estimates it will reduce the area's overall hazard index by 12.5 percent.

Follow the "read more" link to see the area's 50 most hazardous crossings.

Here are the 50 crossings with the greatest potential for collisions, according to the Wichita Area Planning Organization's analysis:

The list shows the street intersection, surface type (C&R=concrete and rubber), average vehicles per day, average trains per day, warning device (Xbucks=crossbuck signs; FL=flashing lights; FL/G=flashing lights and gates), hazard weight (based on warning device) and hazard index (combination of traffic counts, train counts, crossing type and warning device).

Pawnee Avenue C&R 20,536 38 FL/G 0.1 78037
47th Street C&R 18,090 38 FL/G 0.1 68742
13th Street C&R 14,898 38 FL/G 0.1 56612
Murdock Street C&R 13,440 38 FL/G 0.1 51072
Central Street Concrete 13,371 38 FL/G 0.1 50810
Macarthur Road Rubber 13,143 38 FL/G 0.1 49943
21st Street C&R 12,912 38 FL/G 0.1 49066
31st Street C&R 1,287 38 Xbucks 1.0 48906
Harry Street C&R 11,931 38 FL/G 0.1 45338
63rd Street C&R 10,905 38 FL/G 0.1 41439
K‐15 Highway Rubber 31,407 2 FL 0.6 37688
K‐15 Highway Rubber 29,319 2 FL 0.6 35183
Lincoln Avenue C&R 8,372 38 FL/G 0.1 31814
29th Street C&R 7,744 38 FL/G 0.1 29427
53rd Street C&R 7,583 38 FL/G 0.1 28815
Mt. Vernon Street C&R 7,108 38 FL/G 0.1 27010
Hydraulic Avenue C&R 7,065 38 FL/G 0.1 26847
21st Street C&R 13,393 20 FL/G 0.1 26786
77th Street C&R 6,762 38 FL/G 0.1 25696
37th Street Rubber 6,424 38 FL/G 0.1 24411
Washington Street C&R 5,782 38 FL/G 0.1 21972
Market Street C&R 5,219 38 FL/G 0.1 19832
Wassall Road C&R 4,933 38 FL/G 0.1 18745
Seneca Street Rubber 15,383 2 FL 0.6 18460
17th Street C&R 4,639 38 FL/G 0.1 17628
21st Street Concrete 12,983 13 FL/G 0.1 16878
Pawnee Avenue C&R 22,964 7 FL/G 0.1 16075
13th Street North Concrete 15,343 10 FL/G 0.1 15343
K‐53 Highway C&R 5,126 29 FL/G 0.1 14865
17th Street Asphalt 4,515 3 Xbucks 1.0 13545
Douglas Street C&R 10,714 2 FL 0.6 12857
Murdock Street Concrete 12,577 10 FL/G 0.1 12577
95th Street East C&R 2,215 52 FL/G 0.1 11518
Main Street C&R 3,000 38 FL/G 0.1 11400
29th Street Concrete 10,851 1 Xbucks 1.0 10851
Macarthur Road C&R 14,259 7 FL/G 0.1 9981
47th Street C&R 13,824 7 FL/G 0.1 9677
1st Street Concrete 2,520 38 FL/G 0.1 9576
Meridian Avenue C&R 7,487 2 FL 0.6 8984
Maple Street Rubber 7,446 2 FL 0.6 8935
61st Street C&R 2,187 38 FL/G 0.1 8311
71st Street Timber 2,135 38 FL/G 0.1 8113
190th Street C&R 1,540 52 FL/G 0.1 8008
55th Street Timber 348 38 FL 0.6 7934
Harry Street Concrete 10,435 7 FL/G 0.1 7305
Clifton Avenue C&R 1,871 38 FL/G 0.1 7110
Maize Road Asphalt 5,335 2 FL 0.6 6402
Meridian Avenue C&R 1,680 38 FL/G 0.1 6384
5th Street C&R 1,648 38 FL/G 0.1 6262
Woodlawn Blvd C&R 10,299 1 FL 0.6 6179

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The city is sending more dollars to disadvantaged businesses

It has been four years since a local waste hauler secretly recorded the city's administrative services director alleging that high-ranking city officials discriminated against minority business owners. The tape aired on KAKE, and what unraveled was an audit and, eventually, a program aimed at making it easier for minority and disadvantaged businesses to win the often lucrative contracts let by the city. That mostly involved certifying new businesses and offering training classes on how to make successful bids on contracts.

Now the city is spending millions more on contracts with minority businesses, a new report out of City Hall shows. (Click on the graph above to see more detail.) Minority owned businesses received about 17 percent of all the city's contract dollars in 2005. In 2006, 19 percent of the contracts went to those businesses. City council members applauded the increases in their meeting Tuesday. And some voiced support to continue the diversity task force -- perhaps indefinitely. "I think there should be a longstanding committee," Council member Lavonta Williams said. Mayor Carl Brewer also indicated he wants the groups work to continue.

An extension of their work is expected to come up for a vote in coming weeks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A boost for public safety and infastructure?

With 17 vacancies in the police department and no plans for another police academy until January, some city council members are considering pumping more money into public safety in a last minute effort before next Tuesday's 2008 budget vote. And they're also considering more money for street maintenance (which is $900,000 shy of what it was last year) and they even batted around the idea of cameras in police cars.

City Manager George Kolb said his thinking behind keeping the police positions open is that the money that would have gone to salaries can go to planned savings. And, he notes, the department doesn't usually start its academies until there are 25 to 30 vacancies anyway -- this year they've had less turnover than expected. But with a huge upswing in murders this year and what the chief describes as a "gutted" larceny division, council members are pressing Kolb to hire police. After Kolb explained the planned savings, Vice Mayor Sharon Fearey said: "I don't think that's what our citizens want to hear." Council member Sue Schlapp said: "It seems to me the number one priority is the police." And Mayor Carl Brewer said: "I think we need to look at this before Tuesday."

On the street maintenance side, Council member Jim Skelton said he's afraid that a $900,000 cut could put the city on track to have to spend huge amounts to fix ailing streets because, like most maintenance issues, deterioration accelerates. The cut in funding is exasperated by big hikes to the price of materials used to build roads. But, as Public Works Director Chris Carrier pointed out, the cut simply brings street maintenance back to 2006 funding levels. That extra $900,000 was just a nice boost the city approved and hoped to maintain. But, he said, it didn't work out that way.

As for the cameras in police cars (a big issue last year), it's unlikely to happen quickly, especially after the council's inconclusive discussion. The plan is to ask companies to submit bids to supply the city with more cars and include a price tag for equipping at least the traffic division cars with cameras. If the price is right, Kolb said the city would start using them. But, Chief Norman Williams noted, there's a price to maintain the cameras and the video too. He said police used to have cameras in the early 1990s after getting a federal grant, but there was no money to maintain them and they fell to the wayside.

"I think this is important" Fearey said in their workshop Tuesday. "Other cities have this. I have had to be on the other end where I think that I've got citizens' calls that are telling me some kinda big horror stories about police action and, you know, there's no way to know (what exactly happened)." Schlapp said she thinks that the videos could exonerate police in many cases. But Chief Williams, who said cameras weren't even in the top 10 police department priorities, returned to the bottom line argument.

"Cameras are fine if you have ample funds to fund them," he said. And, he noted twice during his discussion that all five of his priorities didn't make the budget this year. That's because the city council wanted to focus on improving fire service, Kolb said. And that has been done -- with three new stations and more than 30 new firefighters expected to be hired.

(Meanwhile, on a fire department note, the city this week will interview finalists to replace the retiring Chief Larry Garcia. The city declined to release candidates' names.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The report that wasn't

A story in today's Eagle highlights how much of a gamble it is to vote on gambling. For example, no one knows what type of casino might be built or where it would be. Developers assure us that it will be cool, but, there's not much to guarantee that other than the state's requirement that developers propose at least a $225 million facility. The experts say voters can't expect specific plans since they're expensive to develop for businessmen who don't even know if voters will approve.

That leaves voters to trust in their local governments to support plans that would be good for the area. But the criteria that Wichita and Sedgwick County officials have developed after months of weekly meetings will remain yet another unknown. More than a dozen people involved have promised not to share the report, which, according to a half dozen sources, includes criteria to use when considering casino proposals. It also has a matrix and checklists to apply to would-be casino developments. This, so far as The Hall Monitor can find, is probably the best indicator for what might type of casino the local governments might lobby for. Sources in several local governments say this document probably won't have any headline news in it. But, they say, it does spell out a process for examining developers' ideas and what may be best for the area -- something voters will probably only hear about after the ballots are counted (if at all).