Archive for Thursday, February 7, 2008

City’s debt may sink pool, for now

February 7, 2008

As Lansing officials come closer to breaking ground on a new, 127-acre city park, they acknowledged plans for a state-of-the-art aquatic center to anchor the park could be put on hold longer than expected.

City Council members have not hesitated beginning the bid process to construct phase 1 of the five-phase park, which is to be located near 4-H and Gilman roads west of Kansas Highway 7. But city staff at a work session Thursday, Jan. 31, raised concerns about making the transition to Phase II of the park, or actually building a pool for it.

In Phase 1, a contractor to be determined later this month will build the park's main entry road and parking lot, will grade surfaces on and around seven soccer fields and four baseball diamonds and will lay the pad for a future, large marketplace shelter at an estimated $2.2 million.

Construction is expected to last 180 days and should begin in March, Parks and Recreation director Jason Crum said.

Phase II would include the aquatic park currently estimated at $9.9 million complete with wading pool, waterslides and a 500- to 700-foot lazy river.

Other operational costs such as utilities, staffing, maintenance, security and supplies were not accounted for, Crum added.

Lansing Finance Director Rana Lacer presented two options that could be used for financing a pool issuing a bond that would be repaid either by a special sales tax or a mill levy increase.

She noted that any additional sales tax would increase the current rate, which is as high as 8.3 percent when including a 1 percent transportation development district tax on purchases in Towne Center. Such an increase could be a disincentive for future development, particularly in Towne Center, City Administrator Mike Smith said.

The other option mentioned would be raising the amount residents pay the city in property tax. Lacer estimated a 10-mill increase would be necessary to retire a 10-year, $10 million general obligation bond.

For a Lansing homeowner with a home assessed at $100,000, that would represent an approximately $115 increase in what is paid each year to the city under current circumstances, Lacer said.

She added that a bond financed through the mill levy must be approved through a bond election.

Lacer and Smith then noted a high debt load the city has been carrying as a reason to prolong plans for pursuing another bond issue.

Lacer detailed the city's current debt service obligations, which are more than $1.5 million annually until 2012, when a loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the city's wastewater treatment facility is set to be retired.

"We're looking at a significant debt increase to do the types of projects we're looking at," Council member Tom Smith said, adding, "It might be 2013 before we can start any large-scale project."

Smith agreed.

"I want the park to grow too, but I've told you : I'm concerned about that debt," Smith said.

Support in survey

Council member Harland Russell argued that in a 2005 community survey, a high percentage of respondents said a top priority for the new park was installing a swimming pool, and residents said they were willing to pay for it.

In that study, 60 percent of the 596 respondents expressed a need for an outdoor swimming pool, and 67 percent said they would be willing to pay $3 or more per month in property taxes to fund that effort.

Pointing to the study, Russell said, in addition to wanting a pool, residents surveyed also wanted athletic fields for parks and recreation programs that are outgrowing the city's current facilities.

"Now that we've got everything out there prepared, we really need to get somewhere into the next phase, so we can get out there and actual play not just practice, but play on these fields," he said.

He suggested scaling back plans for an aquatic center while including funds to finish the ball fields in the park's next phase.

Particularly affected by the consensus to hold off on plans for a pool was Council president Andi Pawlowski, who has made bringing a swimming pool to Lansing one of only two cities in Kansas with a population over 10,000 without a public pool a top priority.

"Not being able to do this now, really upsets me," she said. " : To me this park is very important, because we don't have adequate facilities."

Council Member Dee Hininger echoed the sentiments of many of the other Council members when he said, "I think you need to get the park up and running and add this (the aquatic center) later."

Mayor Kenneth Bernard said he anticipated revisiting the issue in a couple of weeks at a city goal-setting session.

Parkland fee discussion

In other business Thursday, the council discussed raising parkland fees on developers who include private, neighborhood parks in new subdivisions from $300 to $500 per lot.

Currently, developers are required to pay the parkland fee or donate 10 percent of the gross acreage of a subdivision to the city, community development superintendent John Jacobson said.

Bernard suggested forming a committee in the coming weeks with Planning Commission chairman Jim Pittman and members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to look at the issue and consider drafting a comprehensive park and trail plan for the city.

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