Library project tax hit an issue at final OK

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners approved all items on Tuesday’s agenda, but not without discussion.

The most contentious debate dealt with an item on the meeting’s consent agenda, which is usually reserved for the least controversial items. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Richard Hill, who said he was representing “Manhattan landlords,” questioned the wisdom of approving the zoning ordinance for the library’s expansion.

Final reading of that approval, which had received the commission’s preliminary OK two weeks ago, was on the consent agenda Tuesday. Hill wanted to know why the rezoning was listed as having “no direct” financial impact.

Commissioner John Matta said he thought the material was presented that way because the financing of the library project is contained in a separate ordinance. Hill said he was not opposed to the zoning or the expansion, but he is opposed to property tax funding the project. Commissioners unanimously approved all the items on the consent agenda except for the library zoning, which Commissioner Wynn Butler opposed, as he had done on first reading.

On the general agenda, commissioners approved a 15-year contract for services from Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, along with renovations of the zoo’s old administrative offices.

Scott Shoemaker, Sunset Zoo director, told city commissioners the contract and renovation of the office space into what he described as a “state-of-the-art critical care clinic” was a huge benefit for the zoo.

He said the contract, even with the 3 percent annual inflation increase, was well below what the zoo would pay for private services. He said the zoo would save between $120,000 and $140,000 a year for those services, not to mention having three full-time veterinarians manning the clinic every day. Commissioners agreed with Shoemaker and unanimously approved the extended service contract and renovations to the facilities.

They also approved a loan agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for a water meter automation and replacement project. Dale Houdeshell, director of public works, said the project would cost $2,871,050 if an outside contractor took over the replacement of 6,318 meters and associated meter equipment needed to collect the data transmitted by the new meters, which use cell-phone like technology to transmit water usage to City Hall. Houdeshell said the cost of upgrading the old and malfunctioning equipment would be higher if they replaced it in-house as opposed to using an outside contractor. The new equipment would not only allow the city to save money on labor associated with installation, but also allow the staff to eliminate two meter reader positions.

Matta said he wanted city officials to monitor the progress of the projected savings and the water usage as well.

Butler said there were also “hidden benefits” to the new water meters because the meters monitored water usage several times a day. As a result, the water department can detect abnormal water usage at any given site, and notify the resident or homeowner of the problem.

During public comment, Hill said he has the new water meters installed at his property, and was grateful when the water department notified him of variations in water usage. He said the monitoring is so sensitive that it can tell the difference between a broken pipe and a leaking toilet.

Commissioners approved the loan for the water meters, but added they would like to see a report on actual savings during the budget process next year. The motion passed 4-0.

Commissioner Jim Sherow was not at the meeting because he and his wife, Bonnie, were attending presidential inauguration events in Washington, D.C. The Sherows co-wrote an essay on Kansas State University being the first fully functioning land-grant university in the U.S. The essay was one of 10 written by professors of history across the U.S. and presented to 200 attendees at the President’s inaugural luncheon Monday in the Capitol.

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