City seeks to continue expansion

By Burk Krohe

In 2011, Manhattan saw three new city commissioners elected and several city ordinances overturned. Local officials say the city will face a variety of issues in the coming year, especially related to continued development and the pending sales tax issue.

“My main issue is going to be looking at Manhattan urban area to find out where we can actually expand our residential and commercial developments,” Commissioner Loren Pepperd said.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said creating a “cohesive financially feasible” plan for the city’s growth in the next 10 years will be vital.

Ron Fehr, city manager, said the city will be involved in a lot of construction in 2012. Fehr noted that the city will be involved with finishing the new water and waste water treatment plants, completing the Flint Hills Discovery Center exhibits for a spring opening and rebuilding the Strasser Village apartments.

Starting the next phase of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will be an important aspect of the city’s development. Pepperd said someone involved in the project needs to articulate what sort of labs or pilot spaces the facility will need so the city can plan accordingly.

Mayor Jim Sherow said transportation in relation to NBAF will be debated as well. Sherow said contractors for NBAF have already contacted the city inquiring how workers will get to the site and around the city.

“They need to be able to take those workers in and out of there,” Sherow said. “They’ve been putting forward a lot of questions about transportation.”

Earlier this year, the Commission struck down a proposal for a fixed route transit system from the Flint Hills Regional Transportation Agency (aTa Bus). Sherow and Jankovich believe the issue of transporting transient construction workers will reignite that debate.

There was a judgment that improvements to K-18 will be a major issue in 2012. Pepperd said he would like to see the project finished in a timely manner, and Jankovich said longevity of funding for the project is a concern, too.

“Transportation issues between the post and the city certainly will be significant,” Sherow said.

Fehr said it will be important to manage the traffic conflicts in that corridor for the safety of residents. He added it will also be essential for future development of Manhattan Regional Airport.

“Creating a plan for expanding and improving the airport terminal will certainly be a big issue we’ll face in 2012,” Fehr said.

Fehr said one of the city’s goals is to improve and expand air service at the airport. He said the city is working on adding service to another major hub other than Dallas/Ft. Worth and Chicago.

“We have a definite need for increasing the size of the terminal and improving the passenger experience,” Jankovich said.

Sherow feels finding money to do that could potentially be a challenge, though.

Besides development, officials say the Riley County half-cent sales tax will be a major issue in 2012. A proposal to extend the sales tax will be put on an August ballot. The tax was initially passed in 2002 and the county has used its proceeds for road and bridge improvements, while the city has used its portion for economic development purposes.

Commissioners have stated their intent to use a majority of the city’s portion for reduction of property taxes and debt relief should the tax be extended. However, whether it will be extended is still up in the air.

“We’re going to have to do two budgets,” Pepperd said. “One if the sales tax does pass and one if doesn’t pass.”

Pepperd said if it doesn’t pass a lot of projects are going to suffer and added the city would be out of economic development funds. He described that situation as “being up a creek without a paddle.”

Sherow said the issue will be “hotly debated.” Commissioners feel other issues will be tied to that discussion.

Sherow said property taxes will be a concern because a majority of the Commission wishes to use a portion of the revenues for reduction of the general ad valorem property tax. Jankovich said the city budget for 2013 and how the Commission will meet the needs of the city as they pertain to the budget will probably be intertwined with that discussion.

Pepperd said the city should also concern itself with Fort Riley.

He is concerned that the current political climate might result in a drawdown of troops, which would affect the Manhattan community greatly.

Commissioners said the completion of the south end redevelopment project, with the Discovery Center, Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center and the new hotels, will be exciting.

“There are good things on the horizon,” Sherow said.

Saturday: The local economic forecast for 2012.

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