Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2005

City council offers help to county with road

September 28, 2005

City council members took two steps Monday to further economic development efforts.

One initiative centers on an access road to a planned Kansas turnpike interchange south of Tonganoxie. The other initiative would benefit bioscience companies considering a move to the city.

First, the turnpike access road.

City council members are hopeful they can convince the county to work in a partnership to find ways to fund the access road -- if the county agrees to use County Road 1 as the footprint for the new road.

At least one county commissioner favors a cross-country route between U.S. Highway 24-40 and the turnpike south of Tonganoxie. But city officials see County Road 1 as the route with the most economic development potential, largely because the owners of the massive Tailgate Ranch have said they want to be annexed into Tonganoxie if the county road is upgraded and used as the turnpike access route.

And at their Monday night council meeting, city officials agreed to ask the county to join a partnership to help find additional funds -- grants and other funding programs to pay for the road. The city also would help the county lobby other lawmakers for funding.

"This is everything from advocating with them ... for additional funds for this project to actually sitting down with a management team of the city to work on a funding mechanism to find additional funds," City Administrator Mike Yanez said.

"I would hope the county would welcome this extension of a partnership with the city."

The cost of upgrading County Road 1 between 24-40 and Kansas Highway 32 west of Linwood is estimated at $10 million to $15 million. Using a cross-country route would cost about $3.7 million less, according to preliminary estimates.

"The bottom line is the county does not project enough sales tax revenues to meet the roadway upgrade costs," Yanez said in a memo to council members. "Without additional funds, the project could die."

But the city's offer hinges on County Road 1 -- rather than a cross-country road -- as the access route.

"We would make everything contingent on the selection of County Road 1," Yanez said Monday night.

And Yanez emphasized that the city does not want to increase city residents' tax burdens.

At the Oct. 10 meeting, representatives of Springsted Inc. will meet with council members to discuss some funding mechanisms available for projects such as the access road.

In addition to asking Yanez to extend the partnership offer to the county, city council members on Monday asked him to bring back an ordinance that would waive excise taxes and utility connection fees for some bioscience firms opening shop in Tonganoxie.

Fee breaks could be available to firms that provide a certain number of new jobs with certain pay. Yanez used 40 jobs at a minimum of $10 an hour in an example to the council.

Although Yanez said it would be difficult to gauge the exact cost to the city of waiving the fees, it likely would be several thousand dollars.

The council agreed that Yanez should come back with a specific proposal.

"This issue has come about because of actions by the state Legislature to open up funds to help attract these types of businesses to the state of Kansas," council member Jason Ward said. "... This is an opportunity for the city to join in the state's recruitment of this type of industry."

The potential financial benefit to the city far outweighs the risks, council member Steve Gumm noted.

"I think its concept is a good one," he said. "It appears to be a no-lose situation for us. The economic benefits are astronomical, compared to waiving of fees."

Council member Velda Roberts said she believes the city should broaden its view on other possible fee or tax incentives for business.

"We need to be thinking at the same time: What are we going to be doing for the person who has less than 40 employees," she said.

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