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Rethink city-KSU fund process

Wynn Butler

By A Contributor

The City-University Projects Fund was established on June 30, 1994. The fund was part of the annexation agreement that included KSU in the city limits. The logic was based on the following:

1. The university purchases water and sewer service from the city.

2. The city constructed a fire station on university property.

3.  The university has its own police force and this reduces its reliance on RCPD.

4. Most streets on campus remain the responsibility of the university to repair and main-tain.

The City-University Projects Fund is the repository for all revenue generated from city sales taxes, county sales tax rebates or city utility franchise fees gen-erated from any Kansas State University property within the city. 

Expenditures from the fund on projects or programs are restricted to those of mutual benefit to the city and the university. The determination of such mutual benefits shall be in the sole discretion of the governing body of the city.

The process for the selection of projects is simple:

1) The city manager annually provides the KSU president an estimate of the amount of money available to the fund.

2) The KSU president then submits a list of general projects or programs proposed to be financed from the fund to the City-University Projects Fund Committee. The president shall consult with the city manager regarding long-range projects and priorities planned by the city prior to making such general proposals. 

3) The City-University Projects Fund Committee reviews the list and provides recommendations to the City Commission.

4)  The City Commission can either approve or reject the projects. 

5)  The City Commission, if it rejects any projects, notifies the KSU president, who then can re-submit modified proposals or replace rejected proposals. These go to the City Commission, which can but is not required to request that the City-University Fund Committee review them.

Recent Mercury editorials and some city commissioners decry that if the City-University Fund concept is revisited, then collaboration between the city and the university would somehow be damaged. Collaboration is working with another group to achieve shared goals. The City-University Fund process does not have much collaboration. The only point of collaboration is the KSU president consulting with the city manager. The City-University Fund Committee has no power. The City Commission is not involved in the process until the very end, and then is limited to an up or down vote. The concept that a project must be of mutual benefit is not de-fined, except by the parameter that the City Commission can label anything and everything to be of mutual benefit.

A history of fund’s expenditures over the past 19 years indicates that projects have been split 45 percent on items of primary benefit to the city and 55 percent on items of primary benefit to the university.

The 2014 project list:  McCain Auditorium lighting, $224,600; Union Forum Hall lighting, $50,000; KSU Gardens sidewalk, $130,000, campus bike racks, $18,000, Laramie Street inter-section improvements, $107,000’ and Dickens Avenue sidewalk ,$105,250.

It is a stretch to say that the $274,600 allocated for lighting at McCain and the Union is of mutual benefit. A case might be made for the KSU Gardens sidewalk. The bike racks fit with the city bicycle plan, so that is of mutual benefit. Any road and sidewalk improvement in and around the university also fits the bill of mutual benefit. 

The city has $40 million of needed infrastructure repairs. If collaboration is the goal, then maybe more funding could be devoted to those repairs. If buildings are of mutual benefit, then maybe the fund could collaborate on City Hall renovations for new Parks and Recreation offices?

The fund has worked well in the past. But the data over the past 19 years do not indicate that all funds are being spent for mutual benefit. In fact, city staff have stated that the real allo-cation was based on a goal of achieving a 50/50 split.

I believe the City Com-mission should review the City-University Projects Fund process. That review can include many options beyond a 50/50 split — the reality of the current pro-cess. Any final deter-mination on amendments to the agreement must meet with the approval of the university. If true collaboration is desired, then maybe the joint committee could be given some real power. Have the university and the city submit project lists to the joint committee. Have the committee select projects and make recommendations to the City Commission for final ap-proval. 

The commission last week appeared to agree to put the City-University Projects Fund on the agenda for discussion. That discussion will not be limited to one proposal. It is about process improvement. The Mercury de-cried any revisiting of the funds by using terms like de annex-ation, insulting to the spirit of partnership and diminishing to city-university relations. Any thought of de-annexation is ludi-crous.  Collaboration is centered on open discussion and commu-nication. Process improvement and better communication will contribute to the continued partnership of the city and the university.

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