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County split on paying for bridge fixes

By The Mercury

Pottawatomie County commissioners agreed Monday that the county needs more revenue to fund major road and bridge projects.

What they didn’t agree on was the source of the revenue––an increase in the property tax levy, or asking voters to approve an additional one-half cent sales tax this spring.

In the end, commissioners voted 3-0 to publish a proposed 2014 budget with a property tax levy of 25.675––identical to the 2013 levy. The commission discussed the sales tax question, but took no action.

The budget proposal for 2014 includes General Fund expenditures of $22,649,642, up about $760,000 from actual 2013 expenditures. Proposed total expenditures are up by about $1.3 million––from $24,441,087 in 2013, to $25,758,831 for 2014.

A public hearing on the 2014 budget has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19, in the County Office Building at Westmoreland.

Two primary concerns––the Belvue Bridge and further study of the proposed Marlatt Extension connecting Pottawatomie and Riley counties––garnered the commissioners’ attention as they came to the road-and-bridge portion of the 2014 budget review.

Resolving the Belvue Bridge issue will be expensive no matter which direction––repair or replacement––the commission takes, and the proposed Marlatt Extension needs a specified route if it is to become reality within the next five or 10 years.

“We need to reserve land for this project before it gets developed,” Leu Lowrey, public works director, told commissioners. “In two or three years, development could completely shift where this road has to go.”

Commissioner Stan Hartwich said he was open to the idea of raising the property tax levy to fund major road projects.

“We’ve got several projects around the county that need to be worked on and none of them are cheap,” Hartwich said. “If we need to raise the mill levy a little bit to do that I’m willing to talk about it.

“I know it’s not popular to raise taxes, but with all the growth we’ve got going on in the county we’d be foolish not to invest in some of those projects. I think we can sit on our tails here and get behind the eight-ball,” Hartwich said. “We could raise taxes two or three mills and still be three or four mills lower than the next closest (county).”

Commissioners discussed nudging the tax levy up to 26 mills to fund further study of the Belvue Bridge and Marlatt Extension, and putting a proposed half-cent sales tax before voters once project costs are solidified.

“I would not be opposed at all to throwing that extra sales tax to a vote and let the people decide what they want to do,” Commissioner Pat Weixelman said.

Commissioner Gary Yenzer said he was not opposed to a slight mill levy increase to begin putting money aside for the two projects, but agreed the voters should have a voice in the Belvue Bridge decision. “I’m still not convinced a top dressing wouldn’t work,” Yenzer added.

Results of recent core testing by the Kansas Department of Transportation suggested that any type of overlay would not be a viable solution for the Belvue Bridge. The remaining options include replacing the entire deck or the entire bridge structure, Lowrey said. The cost of total bridge replacement is estimated at $15 million.

In other business Monday:

• Criss Mayfield, representing the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, asked for the commission’s input on the Chamber’s Legislative Policies & Positions document for 2013.

“We’d like a little chunk of that transient guest tax,” Hartwich said. “Since the hotels are in Pottawatomie County and we’re all buddy-buddy, we’d like a chunk of that change.”

Manhattan currently has a six percent transient guest tax (bed tax). Sharing that revenue with Pott County would require an agreement process between the city of Manhattan and Pottawatomie County, according to Robert Reece, county administrator.

• Jim Bradley, Westmoreland, asked for an update on the Wilson Creek Bridge replacement project on Westmoreland Road.

Lowrey said King Construction, the general contractor, has moved equipment to the site. The contractor has 100 days to complete the project from June 18, when a “notice to proceed” was issued.

“If he runs over his days it will cost him, but apparently he’s confident he can get it done on time,” Hartwich said. “It’s a terrible inconvenience, I know, but at least there will be a nice bridge there for 75 to 90 years.”

• Ed Lust, rural St. George, said utilities being installed in the area by Cox Communication, Manhattan, make roadways hazardous.

“At 25 miles per hour, you’re lucky to stay in the truck on parts of it it’s so rough,” he said.

Lust asked whether the company would be required to repair road damage after the utilities are installed.

“If they tear it up they’re going to fix it,” Yenzer said.

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