Let’s not wreck the City-University Projects Fund. It has served the interests of both the City of Manhattan and Kansas State University since the city annexed the university in 1994.
The fund’s revenue comes primarily from franchise fees and sales taxes — between about $550,000 and $600,000 a year — generated on campus. The money — about $8 million since the fund’s inception — has been invested in projects deemed mutually beneficial for the city and the university. Among examples are improvements to Anderson, Kimball and Denison avenues, all of which are adjacent to the university. Those improvements have included the addition of turning lanes, sidewalks and traffic lights.
A committee whose members represent both entities evaluates proposals and makes recommendations to the City Commission. On most occasions, approval is routine.
That wasn’t the case last month, however. City Commissioner Wynn Butler not only balked on Feb. 18 at spending money from the fund to replace lighting at McCain Auditorium, he made clear he didn’t think McCain was an appropriate beneficiary of the fund. As a result, he cast the only vote against approving that and several other projects with which he had no problem.
Said Commissioner Butler: “I’m starting to get the sense that this fund is sort of like an extra KSU building fund.”
Last week, Commissioner Butler went further, suggesting that instead of focusing on mutual projects, the commission spend its half of the annual revenue the way it thinks appropriate and the university do what it wants with its share.
We think that’s a bad idea, but first things first. On the subject of McCain Auditorium, Jackie Hartman, KSU’s chief of staff, was correct to point out that 70 percent of McCain’s use is by the community at large. That’s readily apparent by attendance at McCain Performance Series shows and other events. What she also could have said is that McCain serves as the city’s concert hall — one the community is fortunate to have.
As for splitting the fund, doing so would unnecessarily diminish city-university relations. Yes, the annexation contract can be amended by mutual consent, and the city can even terminate the contract — if it is willing to de-annex the university.
Doing so, however, would be an insult to the spirit of the partnership solidified when the city annexed KSU almost 20 years ago. And financially, it would be foolish in the extreme.
Disagreeing with a particular funding proposal in the City-University Projects Fund is one thing, and understandable. The City Commission already has the authority to reject proposed expenditures. But such disagreements don’t rise to the level of a divorce.
Commissioners last week agreed to consider a 50-50 split of money in the City-University Projects Fund, which was unfortunate. Fortunately, they didn’t seem inclined to follow through with it.