City Council requests info to put possible street projects in ‘context’
Tonganoxie City Council members want more answers before making any decisions involving possible street improvements that could be needed with a new elementary school on USD 464’s south campus.
In what was called the start of discussion on the issue, the council on Monday asked staff to provide it with information that would place in context with the city’s existing debt structure and capital project needs the possible extension of 14th Street from the south end of the 80-acre campus to U.S. Highway 24-40 and extend East Street through the campus. The two street projects with improvements to the 14th Street highway intersection would cost an estimated $4.5 million.
Council members didn’t need long memories to understand the need for context. Monday’s discussion came two weeks after the council learned the city’s credit rating could suffer if it took on more debt and that a mold problem and space limitations in the police headquarters needed to be addressed.
It also came a week after a joint meeting with the Tonganoxie USD 464 Board of Education, at which the board agreed to put an April 5, 2011, bond referendum before voters. The estimated $26.9 million bond would finance improvements to the elementary and high schools and build a new elementary school on the south campus.
At the joint meeting, the council also learned state statute forbids the district from paying for the off-site street improvement that could be needed should the bond referendum pass and a new elementary school with an enrollment of 600 be built on the south campus.
At the start of Monday’s discussion, City Administrator Mike Yanez said the city, too, was limited on how much it could spend on the street improvements. The city’s financial consultant, Tom Kaleko of Springsted Inc., informed him the city debt cap would allow it to issue $3.5 million more in debt.
With that and the city’s own financial troubles and other needs in mind, the council agreed with Councilman Chris Donnelly’s request that staff provide information at the Jan. 10 meeting on:
• What the 12.5 additional mills the school district’s bond would add to the local mill levy and the 7.5 to 8 mill the street improvements would add would mean to taxpayers.
• A priority list of other city capital improvements.
• A breakdown of the city’s current debt obligations and their retirement schedules.
“If any logical business was going to do anything, these are the things they would have to know,” Donnelly said. “We need to know these things, and they need to be public so the public knows what the cost is.”
Councilman Jim Truesdell said schools were a priority — more so in his view than the new industrial park or the city’s commitment to help pay for Leavenworth County Road 1 — and said the city needed to make overtures to state and federal elected officials to help pay for the street improvements.
But all council members agreed a traffic study was needed to determine what street improvements were needed, a conclusion also reached at the joint meeting.
The question Monday was should the city help pay for the study, especially once it was learned the school district’s engineers estimated its cost at $61,000.
While Mayor Jason Ward and Truesdell suggested there might be room for partnership, Councilmembers Paula Crook and Bill Peak said the traffic study should be the responsibility of the school district, a view City Administrator Mike Yanez also endorsed.
“I would prefer to put this on the developer,” Yanez said. “If the district wants cooperation, this would be a good first step. Show us want is needed.
“If we got involved, we have no money except in the contingency (fund), and that could be wiped out in January.”
The district should work with the engineering firm to lower the $61,000 cost of the traffic study, which was more than other area districts paid for such studies, Yanez said.
The council also wanted to know of findings from past traffic studies on the 80-acre campus site could be applied to reduce the scope and cost of the traffic study.
The council will address the issue again at its Jan. 10 meeting.
In other business, the council:
• Approved appointing Kent Heskett, city utility supervisor, as temporary public works supervisor with the retirement of Butch Rodgers with a 2.5 percent pay increase.
Earlier this month, the council voted to advertise the public works position and appoint a search committee to screen and interview applicants. Yanez said Monday with the process it could take 45 to 60 days before a new public works supervisor was named.
• Set a special meeting for 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the council chambers to hear a presentation from Suburban Water officials about a possible partnership to provide water service to the CR1 industrial park.
• Set a special meeting for 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at Bichelmeyer’s Steak House with the Leavenworth County Port Authority on community expectations for the CR1 industrial park.