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Commission debates MATC loan, other consent items

By Corene Brisendine

The consent agenda did not escape a harsh review by commissioners before being passed by majority vote Tuesday night.

Commissioner John Matta said he wanted to “set a precedent” and make an example of Manhattan Area Technical College by denying its request to amend an agreement regarding a forgivable loan issued the school by the city.

Matta said the commission needed to start holding people accountable for the promises they make to the city on such loans. “We should stop doing this,” he said. “People should be able to hit numbers; we should hold them accountable for that.”

The college had entered into an economic development agreement through a forgivable loan in the amount of $291,000. The loan was to acquire and relocate three modular buildings to support laboratory training programs, and expand a parking lot. The agreement stated the college must make the improvements and graduate and retain a minimum of 35 students for future hiring by NBAF and related businesses.  The agreement stipulates that if the college did not meet the requirements, it would have to repay portions of the loan consistent with what was not met in the agreement. To date, the college has met about 70 percent of the requirements, and therefore, was required to pay $8,730 this year. The college is lacking in the area of student graduation and retention.

Robert Edleston, president of the college, told commissioners they were unable to retain the students because of the delays in building NBAF.

“We still anticipate and have seen growth in our science program, but there has been a stall in those who actually take the program because there’s no job at the end,” Edleston said. “People don’t want to come to college, graduate from college, and then have to wait two years to get a job.”

The commission voted 4-1, with Matta opposing the amendment to the technical college’s agreement.

Matta also objected to a group of grant applications for various improvements. City administrators want to apply for Transportation Enhancement Program Funding grants for three local projects.

The first is to restore the brick portion of Juliette Avenue between Bluemont Avenue and Laramie Street.

The second is to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over K-18 that would connect the river-side trails to the south-end downtown district.

The third is to continue improvements to the Old Big Blue River Channel north of McCall Road. City manager Ron Fehr said the city has received funding from the state in the past for the channel project, but was passed over the past two years.

Matta said he thought the brick restoration project and the channel improvements were necessary, but the pedestrian and bicycle bridge were not. Commissioner Wynn Butler said the city would end up paying $1.084 million for all three improvements. He also said that even if the state approves all three, the city could decide not to fund any of the projects if they felt the cost was too high or the improvements not necessary.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said he agreed with Matta, but in the end none of the commissioners voted against applying for the grants.

The only other consent agenda item that did not receive full approval was an ordinance authorizing Hospital Refunding Revenue Bonds for Mercy Regional Health Center. Butler abstained due to his wife being a staff member at Mercy.

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