City commissioners tossed around a variety of subjects during their annual retreat on Thursday, and also managed to make a bit of news by agreeing with the so-called “Fieldhouse Group” that Manhattan needs a dramatic upgrade to its sports facilities and venues.
No one was quite in a rush to earmark the $54 million that the group’s proposal said would be necessary to make wholesale changes.
However, commissioners agreed with both the “Fieldhouse” report and the opinion of parks and recreation director Eddie Eastes — conceding that present city facilities are lacking for youth sports, and also for holding events that would draw paying visitors from throughout the region.
Commissioners also discussed several other issues that likely will need to be addressed in 2014 — including street repairs, property taxes, NBAF, intergovernmental cooperation, the airport expansion and area transportation.
Commissioners agreed that the condition of the streets around Manhattan were deplorable.
City engineer Rob Ott said that it would take about $40 million to bring all the streets up into acceptable shape.
Commissioners indicated that would not be possible in one year, but suggested a five-year plan to get all the streets in full repair.
There was considerably more urgency, though, when the matter of the “Fieldhouse Project” hit the table.
There was quite a stir in December when “Fieldhouse” representatives brought forward their $54 million proposal to revamp the city’s parks in order to upgrade the fields and other venues for youth sports and other activities.
Eastes said the group shined a spotlight on the city’s need to improve its sports facilities, but said he wasn’t sure the proposal — as given to the commission in its original form — was the right way to go about it.
After some discussion, commissioners agreed to look at alternative ways to upgrade the facilities without raising taxes.
They suggested forming two groups: one to prioritize the improvement needed in Manhattan, and one to look at joining Junction City to create some joint-use facilities that would bring people to the region.
That would, in turn, create a funding source through existing sales taxes to cover the cost of better venues.
Commissioner Wynn Butler mentioned that Fort Riley representatives also expressed an interest in allowing youth sports tournaments to be held on the base.
On a less spectacular topic, commissioners also discussed the need for new parks and recreation offices.
Eastes said he had met with the design consultant and hoped alternative proposals would be brought to the commission soon.
Since there was considerable fallout from a proposal to move the offices to City Hall, commissioners agreed that, with any future project that would alter an existing structure, they should consult with the historic review board before moving forward.
Another discussion Thursday focused on doing away with special assessments — additional taxes assessed a property owner in a new development to pay for streets and utilities.
It was suggested that special assessments be given to developers and builders to allow for more construction, but once any property is sold to a private individual, the assessment would be rolled into the mortgage.
Commissioners also discussed the importance of completing an update to the Manhattan Area Comprehensive Plan.
Several commissioners wanted to “draw a line in the sand” on the issue of college students should live and where single-family neighborhoods should be redeveloped.
Cooperating with other governmental entities also turned into a major topic.
Commissioners wanted to make sure the city/university fund was benefitting the city as well as K-State.
City manager Ron Fehr said staff was going to bring a list of proposed projects to the commission as soon as it’s available, rather than waiting for the budget process. That would give the commission more time to approve new projects.
NBAF, airport and transportation
Other concerns included developing more airport parking, hounding the federal government on National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility funding and increasing technology used by the city.
Commissioner Karen McCulloh said that the city should encourage more people to receive and pay their water bills online.
Finally, Butler said the commission needed to take a serious look at public transportation funding because the Flint Hills Metropolitan Planning Organization would be bringing a proposal before the commission in January — offering to create a regional public transportation board to act as the money conduit between ATA Bus and the federal government.
The way ATA Bus is set up currently — as a non-profit entity — it cannot receive the funding without using a public body to act as facilitator.
Butler said he would prefer the city become that conduit rather than the MPO.
However, commissioner Rich Jankovich suggested that the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) wanted the public transportation board to be a regional operation.
Fehr said that the thorny transportation issue would be up for discussion during the commission’s second meeting in January.