Council receives benefit district primer
Tonganoxie City Council received an introduction Monday in the creation and use of benefit districts.
The presentation from city engineer Brain Kingsley of BG Consultants was prompted by the possibility street improvements will be needed if voters approve USD 464’s $26.9 million bond issue on April 5. But Kingsley acknowledged basic questions would need to be answered and decisions made before any such district was formed.
The presentation included information on the process of creating a benefit district, updated estimates of the costs of the various upgrades thought to be needed should a new intermediate elementary school be built on the district’s 80-acre south campus, conceptual previews of what a benefit district’s boundaries for a 14th Street extension could look like and how much its participants might be assessed.
But the consulting engineer’s presentation bore the title “concept” benefit district, and Kingsley emphasized nothing in it was in place and a number of basic decisions had to be made before any district was formed.
Foremost of those basic questions is whether the most expensive contemplated street improvement — the 14th Street extension — was needed and, if so, its final alignment.
The USD 464 traffic study, which should be completed in about two weeks, on the implications of the new school on traffic near the campus would start providing answers to those basic questions, Kingsley said.
It was possible the traffic report could find that 14th Street wasn’t needed, Kingsley said. But the new intermediate school would create twice-a-day traffic snarls, like that which exists now at the middle school, at two places on Washington Street. The complications for emergency access would at likely, at minimum, require Washington Street improvements, he said.
But the focus of the presentation was on the need for new streets. Kingsley gave new estimates for the street improvements a new school might necessitate. The estimates, which were developed from the current bidding environment and a 20 percent contingency, were:
• Extension of 14th Street from the southern-most point on the campus to U.S. Highways 24-40 for $2.28 million.
• 14th Street/U.S. 24-40 intersection with turn lanes for $1.22 million.
• Extension of East Street through the school district campus for $875,000.
• Realignment of East Street of Washington Street for $237,000.
The estimates were based on the projected alignment of a 14th Street extension, Kingsley said. However, KDOT demands or other factors could change that alignment. Identifying the alignment and the acquiring the right of way needed, which wasn’t factored into the estimates, would be an early priority, he said.
Once a alignment was identified, the city would have to nail down the street’s cost should it go forward with a benefit district, Kingsley said, because once a district was formed addition assessments to pay for overruns couldn’t be levied against the properties in a district.
The city’s big expense is the 14th Street extension. The district could pay for the on-site East Street extension. And although the city would still assume some of the cost, it would have the opportunity to seek Kansas Department Corridor Management funds for the improvements to the U.S. 24-40 intersection.
Should a 14th Street extension be necessary and the city opt to create a benefit district, it wouldn’t be starting from scratch, Kingsley said. Eagle Valley subdivision on the roadway’s northern frontage was platted with an agreement its property owners wouldn’t protest a benefit district for constructing 14th Street as a residential road (it is now envisioned as a collector street), and homeowners in neighboring Willis Park have been paying into an escrow account for the street’s eventual extension.
As for boundaries of a 14th Street benefit district, Kingsley said it would not have to be limited to those properties or subdivisions fronting the street but could encompass those properties benefitting from the street. As an example, he provided a map with a preferred benefit district of only the existing frontage subdivisions and one termed “in theory,” which included all properties north of the future roadway to Washington Street and now vacant land to the south toward the city’s new industrial park land.
It is also assumed the city at large would benefit from the new collector street. City policy is that the maximum assessment on the city at large is 10 percent of the project’s cost, Kingsley said. Additionally, the policy is to have a 15-year debt retirement schedule for the cost of improvements.
The city could “get creative” with how property owners were assessed through frontage, square feet and per unit or a combination of the three, Kingsley said.
Using his newest cost estimates, Kingsley produced a conceptual benefit district annual apportionment breakout that would assess residential property $283, the school district $37,000 and the city $123,000.
By statute, the city would have to schedule a public apportionment hearing as part of the process of creating a benefit district, Kingsley and City Attorney Mike Kelly said. Any decision to form a benefit district would be subject to a protest petition, which if successful would allow those in the district to vote on its creation, they said.
Although Kingsley’s figures showed an assessment against the school district, Kelly said he didn’t think the city could force the district to participate. Statute said the city assumed the cost of exempt properties, he said.
Council members countered that the district could choose to voluntarily participate.
After concluding his presentation on streets, Kingsley briefly addressed sewer needs with a new school. A second school on the campus would consume the capacity of the sewer line, which runs along East Street and serves the campus.
Should the city get an application for further resident development in the area, it could make modifications to add capacity. However, the city should consider a long-term solution of a new gravity sewer line to the treatment plant from the school property, which would allow more development to the south of the city, he said.