Shawnee Dispatch

Council members question balance of capital expenditures, tax increase

August 30, 2006

The Shawnee City Council voted to move forward with several major city projects Monday, but the issue of cost-effectiveness continued to dog Council members.

The Council revisited items discussed at the Aug. 9 Finance and Administration Committee meeting -- including five major city infrastructure projects and the Justice Center and Fire Station No. 2 complex. Though most had been present to discuss the issues before, Council members proved wary of expenditures after last month's property tax raise.

Council members first discussed five projects on which city staff had asked for guidance before they were considered for the Capital Improvement Plan. Council members unanimously approved placing three of the five for the plan, all funded through benefit districts: Holliday Drive, Locust to Interstate 435; Silverheel, Clear Creek Parkway to 66th Street; and improvements to the Clear Creek Parkway and Kansas Highway 7 intersection.

However, Ward IV Council members still had objections to widening and reconstruction of Monticello Road from Midland Drive to the 7900 block. Michelle Distler said she was still concerned about residents whose homes, mostly built before the road was planned to be four lanes, were already fairly close to the road.

Ron Freyermuth, director of public works, said several factors led to the homes' closeness to the road. He said city staff would have told residents about the city's plans before they built their homes, but the city wouldn't have been able to force them to set their homes back farther than the setback required at the time of building.

Freyermuth said he wouldn't know how many homes would have to be removed or would be extremely close to the road until an engineering study for the road was finished. He said preliminary results of that study would be presented to the Council Sept. 19.

Council member Mickey Sandifer also repeated his concerns from the Aug. 8 meeting, saying he was still in favor of constructing Hilltop Drive first, since that would cost the city $1 million less than Monticello, which is partially funded by the county.

Council member Dawn Kuhn pointed out that Hilltop otherwise would be constructed by developers as the property around it was developed, costing the city no money, so it was "very, very hard to see how this would be cost-effective." The Council approved 6-2 putting Monticello on the Capital Improvement Plan, with Distler and Sandifer voting in opposition.

Council members also were concerned about building Silverheel from the 6900 block to 71st Street, though it was set to be paid for through tax increments from a bioscience district or a benefit district. Neal Sawyer said he was concerned that developers wouldn't be able to pay off the $2.2 million of debt for the road.

Bryan Kidney, city finance director, said it the developer couldn't pay, it would be the city's responsibility to pay the 10-year bond, but the bond would begin in 2008.

Council members also were concerned about how a benefit district would affect residents of one home that would be on the road, but City manager Carol Gonzales said those details couldn't be worked out until the project was begun. The Council unanimously approved putting the project on the Capital Improvement Plan.

Moving on to plans for the Justice Center, the Council ultimately approved issuing for proposals from design-build companies that would ask for the full scope of the project at a construction cost of $18.6 million. If the design-build teams report they cannot build the complex at that price, a list of prioritized items will be included to reduce the project scope and cost.

But before giving approval, Council members asked a few more questions, one seeking to increase the cost, the other to decrease it.

Council member Dan Pflumm, noting the building was to be built with only Class A materials, asked why there were no Class B options. He said he would like to see a Class B building if it would save on the cost, but city staff responded that Class A materials would be more durable.

A special one-eighth cent sales tax will pay for the project, and the city estimates that tax will be able to fund $22 million. Kuhn asked if, in six months, new developments led to a larger sales tax income, would the city be able to add some items on to the project.

Kidney said he could do some projections for incoming developments like the Grey Oaks Commercial Center on K-7, but he didn't feel comfortable counting on developments that weren't there yet.

Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2006/aug/30/council_members_question/