Residents decry rising road costs
Residents opposed to a proposed interchange with Interstate 70 and improvements to County Road 1 complained last week to Leavenworth County commissioners that the project's cost is spiraling way beyond what voters approved in 2005.
Debra Skeet, who lives at 15731 222nd St., started the discussion Thursday by pointing to a Sept. 26 article in The Tonganoxie Mirror that said the county was willing to commit up to $10.5 million to the entire interchange project out of the countywide 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in April 2005.
"What I want to know," Skeet said, "is what happened to the $8 million?"
Robert Dally, 23351 De Hoff Drive, also said he was told "that there would never be more than $8 million of county money spent on (the project)."
"You promised us $8 million, and it doesn't seem like that's a promise that is being kept," Dally said.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber acknowledged that Dally and Skeet brought up "something that was dispersed with the forms when the sales tax issue came up."
"The initial concept of what this project might cost has always been that this would be in the area of $8 million to $8.5 million, or somewhere in that range," he said.
The price changed, however, Graeber said, when the Kansas Turnpike Authority told the county it would need to improve County Road 1 both north and south of the interchange.
When commissioners met on Jan. 2, they learned costs had risen to $12.96 million for the entire project when 2.5 miles of County Road 1 south of I-70 to Kansas Highway 32 were included in engineering consultant HNTB's plans. The new stretch was in addition to the 3.5 miles of County Road 1 slated for improvement north of the interchange.
At that time, approximately $8.5 million of the cost was planned for construction, $2.5 million accounted for inflation and contingencies, $1 million was for right-of-way and utility acquisition and $900,000 for engineering.
Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson said Thursday the county's portion of the cost for the project has not increased since shortly after he was sworn in as commissioner on Jan. 8, in a meeting where the commission reaffirmed its commitment to the project with the turnpike authority.
"The figure that I've had in my head since January is $10.8 million," Tellefson said.
The amount accounts for a $2 million contribution from the KTA and includes all right-of-way acquisition, Tellefson said.
A federal earmark of $500,000 could further decrease the county's contribution.
Tellefson then added that the first time he has seen the price tag for County Road 1 increase was around six weeks ago, when KDOT engineers suggested an alternate realignment for Honey Creek Road to tie-in with U.S. Highway 24-40.
At least half of that realignment, estimated at $800,000 if the tie-in goes south of Honey Creek Road at the Heartland Church of the Nazarene, would be paid for by the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Another resident, Kerry Holton, who lives at 17312 206th St., asked commissioners about their plan for financing the project.
Tellefson said the theory is that the county will seek a bond issue for the project to be repaid using development fees and through revenue from the 1-cent sales tax.
"Once those (development) fees start coming in : I optimistically believe that the $10.8 million will actually be, I think this could realistically cost as little as $7.2 million," he said.
Holton questioned whether, with a multimillion communications upgrade and other projects slated, the projected $27 million in sales tax revenue to be generated by 2016 would be enough to cover all costs.
"If we don't generate $10.8 million in sales tax revenue over the 10-year period, then it will have to come from other sources, and other sources means property taxes and everything else," Tellefson told him.
"So plan B is if you can't cover all expenses in the cookie jar fund, you'll raise taxes," Holton reiterated.
Graeber explained, "What he (Holton) is saying is correct, but, according to the current projections that we have, the funds, if we continue at the present level, will be sufficient to cover these projects."
Debra Skeet's husband, B.A. Skeet, griped, "We don't really have a handle on what is the cost," and Debra Skeet added, "We don't need this road; we don't want it; and we definitely can't afford it."
"We are trying to get our arms around that figure," Graeber said. "We are really doing our best to get that, and that is not an easy figure to determine."
Tellefson added, "All we can do with these projects is to go forward with the best information that we have. :It really is about safety and economic development and doing things the right way so that it doesn't impact you guys. We're trying to do what's best for the whole county."
"I didn't vote for this back in January," Graeber, a generally accepted fiscal conservative, reminded those present. "But now that it's been approved by the commission, I'm going to shepherd those funds and watch them very carefully how to spend and expend them as long as I am here. That's my commitment to the people of Leavenworth County."
Later Thursday morning, commissioners voted to delay signing a contract with engineering consultant HNTB that would have added $154,399 to the more than $13 million estimated price tag for County Road 1 improvements. Commissioners said they would wait on a redesign with HNTB until definitive plans are received from KDOT.
In other business Thursday, the commission:
¢ Unanimously adopted a rezoning amendment, adding to the list of acceptable uses in an I-2, light industrial zone: water standpipes, drinking water facilities, drinking water treatment monofills, electrical substations, wastewater lift stations and wastewater treatment facilities.
The amendment will allow Johnson County Water District No. 1 to construct a residual monofill north of Lakeside Speedway and east of the Archer Daniels Midland grain elevator in eastern Leavenworth County.
¢ Unanimously voted to accept a letter of resignation from solid waste coordinator Debbie McRill effective Oct. 23 and approved, 3-0, the promotion of operations supervisor Tony Tuner as interim solid waste coordinator.
¢ Unanimously approved changing Planning and Zoning Secretary Rhonda Berry's position from a level-3 to a level-4 position.
¢ Approved, 3-0, a renewal application for a special-use permit for an automotive repair business at 17101 206th Street submitted by Paul Lamb.
¢ Approved, 3-0, a renewal application for a special-use permit for the sale and repair of firearms as well as the sale of small tractors and all-terrain vehicles at 20319 State Ave. submitted by Cecil and Jean Hayden.
¢ Approved, 3-0, a renewal application for a special-use permit for Lea Ann Shearer's service dog training kennel at 18700 182nd Street. The SUP expanded the amount of dogs allowed from 10 to 16 and is valid for 10 years.