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Social services funding, 1/2-cent sales tax prominent this year

By Corene Brisendine

Debate over funding for social services agencies and the governing body’s role in renewal of the half-cent sales tax occupied city commissioners during 2012.

Commissioner John Matta and Commissioner Wynn Butler, elected on platforms calling for controls on city spending, stood firm on their opposition of the city funding some social services. When the 2013 budget was adopted in August, that spending was reduced by 5 percent. In June, a group of residents sought adoption of a charter ordinance requiring the city to designate two percent of its general fund budget to social service causes. Commissioners denied that petition, however, on a 4-1 vote after city attorney Katie Jackson advised them the petition was improper. Commissioner James Sherow was the only one to support it.

Commissioners tried for weeks to develop a new sales tax proposal to replace one in place since 2002 that was due to expire at year’s end. Commissioners generally preferred to replace the current county-wide tax with a city-wide tax on the theory that the latter approach would generate more revenue both for the city and county. But county officials rejected that idea, asserting that the language of the 2002 law required a re-vote on its continuation. Eventually, the attorney general issued an opinion agreeing with the county’s position.

The city’s debate then became one of how to split the proceeds from the tax. Commissioners adopted broad language permitting use of those proceeds for debt reduction and infrastructure as well as classic economic development. Sherow opposed that approach, which was adopted over his objection, creating a 65/35 split, with the lion’s share going to economic development and/or infrastructure.

The commission also approved a face-lift of the downtown businesses with a 95/5 split of the $2.9 million project. When it came to fixing water drainage issues south of CiCo Park, the commission proposed a 50/50 split of a $1.5 million project, but that split was rejected by the dozen residents who would have to pay the bill. Civic Plus was given a $750,000 forgivable loan, $20 million in bonds if needed and 10 years in tax abatements. The commission also agreed to spend $20,000 to $40,000 on a study to expand the 30-year-old offices at the Parks and Recreations headquarters at City Park. Matta and Butler opposed the study, not because it was not needed, but because they believed that once the city made the plans, it would feel required to follow through. Matta said he thought the city could spend the money in better ways.

Also during 2012, the city increased water and stormwater rates as part of an ongoing process to flatten out water costs. The large-volume consumers were the ones to take the brunt of the rate hikes. The commission also denied a request by the water department to install automated water meters. Matta said the up-front cost would create a negative cash flow for the next 10 years even though the new meters would increase accuracy and staff efficiency. Jankovich agreed.

The commission also approved changing the south-end redevelopment Lot 9 from an entertainment district to a hotel and restaurant. Matta vowed to never approve another mixed-use parking lot after agreeing with the commission to move forward. The commission also approved a hotel next to Aggieville, but denied a proposal to build an apartment complex within walking distance of campus for college students.

Although the expanded Metropolitian Planning Organization map that included Junction City was opposed by Butler and Matta, it was approved by the remaining commissioners. Matta’s concern about diminished city control while it carried the majority of the cost was realized when the MPO decided to give a vote to aTa Bus in the planning sub-committee. Commissioners had previously vetoed a request by aTa Bus to create fixed routes within the city. Sherow was the only commissioner supporting the proposal.

The airport expansion moved through its stages of development seamlessly. Matta and Butler lobbied to impose parking fees once the expansion is completed in order to help foot the bill.

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