Archive for Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CR 1 improvements could be more costly

August 22, 2007

If a Leavenworth Board of County Commissioners meeting last week was any indication, the price tag for improvements along County Road 1 leading to a proposed interchange with Interstate 70 may become significantly higher than originally projected.

In a public session Thursday, Aug. 16, public works deputy director Mike Spickelmier informed the county commission that the Kansas Department of Transportation has unofficially recommended realigning Honey Creek Road, which runs a half-mile south of Kansas Avenue, once construction is under way at a cost of $625,000 to the county plus all land acquisition expenses.

"Specifically, KDOT is concerned with the northernmost portion of County Road 1," Spickelmier said of the total project, originally estimated at $12.9 million.

When complete, the project will include the leveling and widening of six miles of County Road 1 from U.S. Highway 24-40 to Kansas Highway 32 to support the increased traffic load from a new interchange with the Kansas Turnpike.

Spickelmier explained that officials with KDOT intend on creating a tie-in running perpendicular to U.S. 24-40 that juts off County Road 1 just south of Honey Creek Road where the Gordon Harman Farmstead is located.

Third District Commissioner Dean Oroke said the county's recommendation has always been to put the road in north of Honey Creek near the Heartland Community Church of the Nazarene. Oroke explained that two large ditches impede construction at the southern location, and the county "would have to put in two large drainage structures," whereas the northern location runs along a ridge and, according to Oroke, would be more feasible.

"There's been a lack of communication in the process...Just because it's crunch time, they think we're going to open up our checkbook," Oroke said, later adding, "We're two years into the project and all of a sudden (KDOT) wants to jump in and tell us what to do without spending any money."

Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson said KDOT only recently became involved in the project after $500,000 in federal funding was offered up last month.

"Statutorily, I don't think KDOT can mandate this," Commissioner Clyde Graeber said. "It's not in their purview to say we have to do this."

Tellefson asked Spickelmier for an estimate of how much the county has spent on County Road 1 thus far and wanted to know who is acquiring which right of way.

"I would like very much to have KDOT on our side," Tellefson said. "I would like to go through with this project."

Of the original $12.9 million price tag, Leavenworth County taxpayers voted to spend up to $8 million in sales tax revenue on County Road 1. Additionally, $2 million will come from the Kansas Turnpike Authority for the actual interchange, and the city of Tonganoxie has offered as much as $1 million over 10 years.

With the $500,000 earmarked by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in July included, that's a total of $11.5 million raised for the project -- still at least $1.4 million short, and even more if cost projections rise.

In April, commissioners raised the possibility of using sales tax dollars to fund the remainder of the project, with certain tools, such as the use of a benefit district, available to recoup the county's investment.

Another additional expense for the project discussed Thursday was right of way acquisition.

Spickelmier presented a proposal from Leawood-based Right of Way Associates for appraisal and acquisition services for 58 parcels of land along County Road 1 at a cost of $81,200, which doesn't include the actual cost of land acquisition.

Commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposal, saying that -- at one point -- landowners in the area had agreed to donate easements for road expansion.

"If you're going to buy right of way from one, you have to buy it from all," public works director Bill Green said, explaining why Right of Way Associates' proposal included all 58 parcels in question.

"I am not at all happy with this proposal," Oroke said, questioning why KTA wasn't also responsible for acquiring the right of way.

"They (KTA) are only concerned with the ramps and the interchange," Graeber answered. "That road is ours."


The board discussed whether additions published in the 2008 proposed budget can legally be made.

Included in next year's proposed budget is $4.4 million in general capital improvement reserve funds, $2.1 million of which were leftover from sales tax money that funded justice center renovations.

Based on the recommendation of Gilmore & Bell, P.C., a public finance law firm with offices in Kansas City, Mo., that $2.1 million was transferred into the county's general fund for the 2007 budget after the bonded debt for the center was paid off in December 2006, and now, for 2008, commissioners are proposing that that same money be transferred into the general capital improvement reserve fund, county clerk Linda Scheer said.

Commissioner Graeber said he thought that leftover money from the justice center had to be used solely for work done to the justice center.

"The question is whether funds transferred from the (justice) center must be used for improvements there or can be used elsewhere," Steve Wagner, a certified public accountant who assists the commission with the budget, said.

"I think that by showing all the expenditures and transfers, we're doing this legally," Scheer replied.

Commissioner Tellefson said that if changes must be made, they could still be implemented at the time of the final public budget hearing scheduled for Aug. 30.

"If there was something we were doing wrong, we have the capability to go back and fix it," he said.

Scheer said it would be possible to reduce the budget at the hearing, but if increases are necessary, a new, proposed budget will have to be republished.

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