The direction of a new regional planning organization will come down to its finalized boundaries. That was the takeaway from Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
Manhattan qualified as an urbanized area because of population data from the 2010 census, and in accordance with federal law the city must create a metropolitan planning organization. The organization will be overseen by a policy board made up of local officials, Kansas Department of Transportation officials and other officials as deemed appropriate. Additionally, it’s clear the organization’s $159,383 grant will not cover the initial start-up costs. Local funding will be necessary.
However, the makeup of the policy board and the budget will be determined by the bounds of the map and how many other local partners the city decides to work with. Commissioners Wynn Butler and John Matta favor a smaller map, referred to as option 2, which includes the city, its identified growth areas in Riley County and Pottawatomie County and Ogden. Mayor Loren Pepperd and Commissioner Jim Sherow support a larger map, known as option 4a, which includes those areas as well as Junction City, growth areas in Geary County and a portion of Fort Riley. Commissioner Rich Jankovich was undecided but said he is leaning toward the larger map.
Butler and Matta favored the smaller map because they are concerned with losing local control of the organization. They argued that Manhattan’s growth is responsible for the creation of the organization and the city will be putting up most of the cost either way.
“I represent the citizens of Manhattan and it’s up to me to look out for their best interests,” Matta said.
Several residents voiced their support for a smaller map during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I think it’s foolish to go any further than we absolutely must to satisfy the federal mandate,” Chuck Henderson said.
Sherow responded to Matta, saying regional cooperation seems to be at an all-time high and it would irresponsible to waste those relationships. His response started a lengthy back-and-forth.
“We can either work with our communities as this regional cooperation has developed or we can tear it apart,” Sherow said. “That’s what’s before us.”
He noted his discussions with Fort Riley officials who are in favor of a broader map and including Junction City and Geary County.
“One thing to make perfectly clear, if we don’t go with 4a, that’s not something the post wants to see,” Sherow said.
Matta said with city government, state government and federal government, there is no need to add regional government to the mix. He said it will only add extra bureaucracy and overhead and advocated “synergy” between Manhattan and the organization to make it as efficient as possible. Butler added expansion can be phased in at a later date.
“I think regional cooperation is great but regional government is a different thing,” Matta said.
Pepperd didn’t buy it.
“We have a regional airport—everybody calls it a regional airport—and we want Geary County to use the regional airport, we want Fort Riley to us the regional airport, we also have a regional shopping center,” Pepperd said.
Jankovich was not willing to definitively state which map he would support, citing several unanswered questions about the maps’ impact on state and federal funding. He said he really needed to understand whether there would be negative impact.
There were also concerns over the organizational budget. Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager, presented several preliminary budgets for both maps, all of which had Manhattan paying between $227,000 and $275,000 over a five-year period.
Butler said the numbers didn’t add up. Rob Ott, city engineer, termed the numbers preliminary and very rough. Ott solicited opinions from two firms and said “those were the numbers that came back to me.” He added it’s hard to come up with specific numbers without a project scope.
The issue will be discussed further at the Sept. 20 intergovernmental meeting. The city is hoping to gauge how committed other local entities are to participating, particularly in funding, the organization.