Candidates talk about mass transit plans for the city

By Corene Brisendine

Paying for the MPO
Should the economic development portion of the half-cent sales tax be used to off-set the cost of the Metropolitan Planning Organization?

John Ball: Yes. I believe that MPO functions can be directly tied to core economic development requirements. Also, by using sales tax funds rather than resources from the general fund, we can help minimize current pressures to raise property tax.

Daniel Hogan: Yes.

Rich Jankovich: I don’t believe the Flint Hills Metropolitan Planning Organization is an economic development function…This organization is about transportation planning only. Each community/county will be responsible for the funding of actual projects approved first by the MPO then by KDOT.

However, it is not a stretch to believe that funds from the sales tax could go toward specific Manhattan transportation, road/bridge improvements projects. This would have a positive, direct impact on property taxes.

Karen McCulloh: Funding levels are yet to be determined and thus, it would be difficult to foresee where the city should budget costs. 

I would prefer to spend the economic development monies on assistance to local business and for incentives to outside businesses, which will bring a good return of well-paid jobs with benefits to our community.

Debbie Nuss: The half-cent sales tax is temporary (ten-years) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization is permanent so I think the city’s portion of the funding to support the MPO’s day to day operations should come from the city’s general operating budget, which is a permanent source of funding. Projects recommended by the MPO that might ultimately be approved by the city commission could be funded from the half-cent sales tax, but ongoing operations of the MPO should be funded as part of the city’s general operating budget.

Usha Reddi: No. The half-cent sales tax was not approved to offset the cost of the MPO…The 65 percent of the half-cent sales tax should be used for infrastructure that supports economic development not in absence of it…

Bob Strawn: This is an argument that should come from the budget debate. Certainly economic development tax revenues could be a source to fund this federal mandate that deals primarily with transportation.

Fixed route system

Should the city help fund a fixed-route bus system in Manhattan?

Ball: No. Manhattan should continue to support the on-demand system ...not invest taxpayer funds in a non-essential fixed-route service…

Hogan: No. The city needs a public transit system, but the system needs to be self-supporting…

Jankovich: At this time no… I believe we need to have a strong long-term commitment from KSU for funding and better ridership data to then have the city step in with some level of funding.

McCulloh: We need to do a comprehensive traffic study for all modes of transportation: Air, roads and public transit. We have studied the public transit possibilities for several years with a KDOT directed committee. We looked at several other models including Ames, Iowa and all the other Big 12 schools (they all have some form of fixed route). We must have a partnership with K-State on this activity.  ATA carried 157,435 passengers last year so one can see the need is there. The request of ATA bus for $15,000 works out to $ .35/Manhattan citizen and should have been granted. I am delighted to see the city has finally granted right of way so we can have bus signs.

Nuss: Yes. A fixed route bus system is part of our community’s infrastructure. It should be supported and funded just like we support the construction of streets and sidewalks.

Reddi: Yes, I’m open to considering it. I think we need to work towards a fixed-route bus system if the numbers show there’s a need in the next year or two…

Strawn: No. Not until the fixed route system presents a viable business plan with components that include major contributions from the university and its student body…If we could establish that kind of support from the [university], then I would support the city making a contribution to a fixed route system…The city should continue to support on-demand service as it does presently.

 

 

Bicycle lanes

Should the city increase, decrease or maintain the efforts to facilitate bicyclists’ use of city streets as a mode of transportation?

 

Ball: ...Based on our lack of bicycle friendly roads, I’d support increasing our efforts, but we must ensure that we balance the cost of improvements with our sources of income.

Hogan: Maintain. An increase would mean more spending, which leads to higher taxes. A decrease would lead to more congested streets. Maintain what we have.

Jankovich: ...As funds are available, we should continue to expand the cycling lanes, which will increase the safety to the riders, pedestrians and vehicles.

It needs to be a measured effort against other needs, but should be a part of the overall transportation plan.

McCulloh: The more we can encourage bicycles the better off we are in needing less road repair and parking and in having a fit, healthy citizenry…We must make the route safe and well marked…

Nuss: The city should maintain or increase efforts to make it possible for bicyclists to use city streets as a mode of transportation. As streets are constructed in the newer areas of the city, they should be wider to allow for bike lanes. Any time changes or improvements are made to existing city streets we should consider whether changes can be made to accommodate bikers…

Reddi: I think we need to maintain what we have to facilitate bicyclists’ use of streets as a mode of transportation…

Strawn: Increase if practical. The city should be in the business of promoting good health. This is an excellent method to do that providing the budget allows.

 

Walking and bike paths

Should the city devote more funding to develop walking and bicycle paths around the city?

Ball: Absolutely. This is a specific area where we could use the ? cent sales tax infrastructure funds, but improvements must be made in small affordable steps, without borrowing more money.

Hogan: No. They seem to be fine the way they are.

Jankovich: I believe we should. This is a carryover from the previous question. However, when, is the question? A great example would be to complete the Linear Trail to bring it up Marlatt Avenue and tie into the Hudson Trail. However, at the present time, funds are not available to widen Marlatt, which is critical to extending the trail. Rochester, MN has one of the most extensive bike/walking paths that I have personally ever seen. Many of the lanes go through neighborhoods to tie into the various sections of town to allow alternative transportation away from the streets. This should be studied as part of the overall development master plan for the city as we move forward and potentially be a part of new developments that are approved. The biggest element is the funding of these projects. As we see the income from the north and south redevelopment, once the bonds are paid, we should have significant funds to do new quality of life projects such as those outlined in this question.

McCulloh: …This leads into the fourth question of spending more dollars and I would point out that as with the ATA bus service we are taking about relatively few dollars here. The city and county are spending millions on the airport—just the off-ramp is costing them $3,000,000. Dollars spent on bikes and buses would be in the thousands not millions.

Nuss: Yes, the city should devote more funding to walking and bicycle paths around the city. Those elements should be discussed and considered any time a project goes before the Planning Board and recommended to the City Commission. We should complete the Linear Trail connection along Marlatt Avenue as improvements in that area are made.

Reddi: I cannot say a firm “yes” or “no” on this issue at this time. I think we need to look at options and see how much this would cost the City. I need to have more budget information and user information before I can a decision. We need to continue to search for grants that will fund walking and biking paths without dipping too much into city funds. We can also look at matching funds for grants.

Strawn: Providing the budget allows, yes. But this is a matter of priorities. Paths vs. firefighters? No thanks. Paths vs. ATA fixed route? Yes.

 

Expanding

airport services

Should the city spend $11 million (or more) on expanding the airport and airport services?

Ball: No, not at this time. The airport is a great service and an important asset for economic development. That said, the city is currently about $260 million in debt and that debt is driving up property taxes creating hardships for our citizens…especially those on fixed income. Once the city has retired at least $11 million in debt, then we can consider doing an equivalent project. Also, in addition to the terminal upgrade, we need to address the challenge of having only one main runway. If we do not add another runway, then when the current one has to be resurfaced in 5-10 years, the airport would have to be closed for several months.

Hogan: No. There is not enough outbound or inbound passenger traffic at this time to justify the expense of expanding the terminal and other services. If any money is spent on the airport, it should be spent on maintaining and expanding the runways.

Jankovich: Obviously I have a vested interest in the success of the airport. This will be directly dependent on FAA funding. The airport with the existing air service is a tremendous economic engine. If the FAA provides the grant funding for the terminal and we are able to use passenger fees to pay for the city portion/match, I believe it has merit. The parking will at that time have to become a fee-based arrangement as the parking will need to expand. It appears that this would be tax neutral, as the cost would be paid from parking fees. The improvements will allow for greater revenue from rental car providers and other retail opportunities. An improved terminal also should assist in finding the “Denver” route/carrier, which is a hot topic today, as the throughput of the existing terminal is limited. Having said all of this, the runway will also need to be addressed in the relatively near future and we need to fully study and understand the impact that could have on our commercial air service. Of course without the traditional FAA matching grant funding all of this discussion is a mute point. The repayment source should not be on property tax but rather from user revenues.

McCulloh: We have significant city debt. I feel most of the debt has reliable streams of income but I think now may be the time to step back and re-evaluate what future spending should be. I am very concerned about deficits at the state level, which will turn into increased property taxes at the local level. We also need to see what the outcome of federal sequestration will have on matching monies for airport expansion and operation. Before we plunge in to any more spending we need to have a clear picture of where the state and federal government cuts will lead.

Nuss: The region has greatly benefitted from the enhanced air service provided by Manhattan Regional Airport. However, I think we need to be cautious about committing funds to expanding the airport and airport services until we have a better idea of what the final federal budget looks like. We need to be sure that subsidies for existing air carriers will continue or we may find ourselves with an enhanced airport with limited or no service.

Reddi: I cannot say “yes” or “no” on this issue for several reasons. I believe the FAA will be funding a majority of the expansion. I can’t say I would build this runway here or put this terminal there. What I can do is acknowledge the vital role our airport has played for the positive growth of Manhattan, as well as K-State and Fort Riley. Going forward I must do what I can to continue to support our airport while still being good stewards of your tax dollars. I would listen to the experts in this area and make a thoughtful decision based on facts, revenue projections, budget and timeline.

Strawn: Without question, the airport is an economic driver for Manhattan. But this is not an easily answered question from my knowledge base. The terminal needs updating. We need more parking. But parking should be fee based, not free. American Airlines should be doing its own advertising, not taxpayers on AA’s behalf. The FAA has to make the major contribution to any expansion. What is it? Are more flights to new destinations probable? So, the question is difficult for me to answer directly. Generally, I’m a strong supporter of the airport and would look for ways to make investments that have a reasonable payout to the city. I came here from the aviation industry and was mayor when AA committed to MHK.









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