County reaffirms project with KTA
Leavenworth Amid public debate Thursday, the Leavenworth County Commission voted to proceed with improvements along County Road 1 leading to the proposed Interstate 70 interchange.
A contentious resolution passed 2-1, reaffirming the commission's commitment with the Kansas Turnpike Authority to undertake the $12.96 million project. The resolution also stated the intention of collecting development fees to recoup additional sales tax money that were not originally anticipated for the undertaking.
The county had previously committed up to $8 million in sales tax revenue to improve the 6-mile access corridor running just south of Tonganoxie to Kansas State Highway 32, with the KTA adding an additional $2 million in funding. Officials with the city of Tonganoxie also pledged $1 million, but as of yet, no binding commitment has been made.
It was decided Thursday that the additional $1.9 million to $2.9 million in funding would come from the one-percent sales tax that was approved by voters in 2005 and went into effect this January if other funding options fail.
Several county residents attending Thursday's meeing voiced their unwillingness to pay for this additional cost, among other concerns.
"The taxpayers said we'd give $8 million, not more," former county commissioner Louis Klemp said Thursday. "Somebody else can come up with the rest of the money."
The commission was confident, however, the additional money spent could be recovered in development and road impact fees levied on new developers, and they did not yet rule out the option of third party or federal funding.
Mike Yanez, Tonganoxie city administrator, reinforced the county commission's view.
"An interchange impact study conservatively estimates that by the year 2030 (this project) would create 1,125 new jobs and could recoup $53 million in property tax and development fees," Yanez said.
Other residents criticized the plan, saying the access corridor would be unsafe to travel if it was expected to handle the increased traffic load that would come with an I-70 interchange.
"It's a roller coaster road," said Janice Bernhardt, whose home rests just feet from County Road 1. "This is about the safety of the people traveling these roads."
Commissioner J.C. Tellefson assured Bernhardt the rolling hills would be leveled, passing lanes would be added and that "as we go on, it will be a safer road."
Others, like Mary Johnson, who lives on Kansas Avenue just west of County Road 1, questioned why road improvements are going into developments but not to "the gathering roads : that have nothing but potholes."
The most vocal advocate against the interchange project Thursday was B.A. Skeet, who also lives on County Road 1.
"You (the commission) say we'll be a better rural community," Skeet said. "But it ain't going to be a rural community anymore."
Skeet also questioned if Commissioner Dean Oroke's history as a builder was unduly influencing his decision-making.
Skeet's comments were met with applause by several audience members.
Tellefson expressed disappointment with the nature of some of Thursday's discussion but said, "I think very much that it's the best deal we can cut."
The one dissenting vote came from Commissioner Clyde Graeber.
"Nothing shows that (the interchange project) will bring in money at a later date unless development occurs," Graeber said.
Residents will hold a town-hall meeting at 2 p.m Sunday to further discuss the interchange project and its impact. It will be at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds in Tonganoxie.