City commissioners approved the Metropolitan Planning Organization designation agreement Tuesday night with a 3-2 vote.
Commissioners John Matta and Wynn Butler cast the dissenting votes, reiterating criticisms they made when the issue was initially discussed. Butler, who is the city’s representative on the MPO, said the agreement fails to make sure Manhattan retains control of MPO spending. As it is, Manhattan has three of the board’s nine votes. He said it also fails to ensure that costs would be kept as low as possible.
Butler requested the agreement be changed to include a clause that would give Manhattan a weighted vote in establishing boards and bylaws such as the financial agreement. But Kansas Department of Transportation officials said if that clause was included, they would not sign the agreement.
The MPO’s rules require a minimum of six votes to pass funding for projects, meaning it would be possible for something to pass even if all three of the city’s votes opposed it. Stephanie Watts, KDOT’s representative on the MPO, said Manhattan was not allowed to have control of the vote in funding decisions because the need for those items outweighed the city’s desires. On discretionary items, however, Manhattan does have effective veto power since a minimum of seven votes is required for passage.
Watts said that while Manhattan could not “veto” required projects, KDOT would remain vigilant in keeping costs as low as possible. She said the city might object to bringing in outside consultants for major projects, preferring to keep those studies “in house.” But she added that would not be in the best interests of the region because someone who is specialized in a particular area of transportation needs would be better suited to conduct the studies. Watts acknowledged that would increase costs, but said they would advocate for the lowest bid possible.
The decision followed a pointed debate. Matta said he would rather see Manhattan reduce the size of the MPO to the smaller map that only included the city of Manhattan and small parts of Pottawatomie and Riley counties if it meant the city would retain control of its budget.
John Ball, a Manhattan resident who is running for a seat on the commission, said he was “very uncomfortable” turning over the city’s budget to five other organizations who were not answerable to Manhattan citizens. That was a reference to the other MPO voting entities: Riley, Geary and Pottawatomie Counties, Junction City and KDOT. He suggested the commission consider “shrinking” the map.
Mayor Loren Peppered said he agreed to go with the larger map because it would spread the costs of the MPO over a larger area, and believed that was better than footing the entire bill alone.
He said that even if the city decided to go with the smaller map, the projected costs for the next few years would not change significantly. Therefore, he supported the designation agreement, and said the city needed to play the “political game” with the other organizations to get what it wanted.
Matta said a reduced map would save the city money by not paying a separate salary for a director and staff.
He said the city could assign those duties to its own staff and have them answer to the city manager.
Commissioner Jim Sherow and Watts both objected to that idea because the MPO would have to hire a full-time director who would be answerable only to the MPO.
Sherow said the city would not save any money, either, because it would have to cover the entire salary, not just 60 percent as it is set up now with the larger map.
Pepperd and Commissioner Rich Jankovich both agreed they would not be willing to vote against the designation agreement because that would halt all the progress the city has made in creating a regional cooperative benefitting not only Manhattan, but the entire region.
On Monday, Riley County commissioners passed the agreement. Watts said Junction City, Geary County and Pottawatomie County representatives have already said they plan to pass the agreement as it stands. Watts said KDOT has also approved the agreement and is waiting for the other governing bodies to sign off before sending it to the state and finally to the federal government.