Winchester Road improvements may face delay
A perceived inability to contribute funds from the Eudora school district budget could be a pothole in the path of paving Winchester Road.
Eudora City Council President Rex Burkhardt and city engineer Matt Taylor asked the district June 8 for a commitment to the project. With a tentative price tag of nearly $800,000, Burkhardt asked the district to pay 13.6 percent of the paving cost. School board president Mark Chrislip said the board couldn't contribute any funds.
"We really don't have an option," Chrislip said. "We really can't spend the money. It's out of our authority."
Veryl Peter, team leader for school finance of the Kansas State Board of Education, Topeka, said there may in fact be some cause for concern. He said local school boards may not be able to support public works projects.
"I told (Eva Deonier, Eudora School Board Clerk) that there are some attorney general's opinions on those things," Peter said. "It appears right now that probably the school district does not have that authority."
However, Peter said, the opinions are based on past court cases concerning Kansas schools, but are not necessarily law. A school district could choose not to follow the attorney general's opinion, but it would then be open to litigation if a resident filed a complaint.
There may be another option.
Peter said the district may be able to consider the project a special assessment, where funds could be attributed to any project near school property.
"It could run special assessment if it's adjacent property," Peter said. "If the city or county can assess the school, they do have the authority to pay that through a general or special fund."
County administrator Craig Weinaug agreed there may be other options.
"Schools do have the means to pay those kinds of costs," Weinaug said. "If they'd like to sit down with a lawyer I'm sure we can discuss some options."
Weinaug said the county commission met Monday through Wednesday and will meet next week to discuss the county budget. Not having a definite answer or time frame when that answer will come from the school board has Burkhardt worried about not getting on the county's budget in time. Currently, the county has tentatively proposed to put $200,000 toward the paving of the road.
"To tell you the truth I'm getting kind of nervous," Burkhardt said. "I haven't heard anything back from them school board yet. We need to speed the process up."
Weinaug said if the school doesn't contribute, the project may be able to fall under the Douglas County capital improvement plan (CIP), which allocates money for improvements the commission deems significant enough for assistance. If that were happened, Weinaug said, there would need to be some reorganization of the proposed amount to be covered by the city of Eudora to cover the missing cost.
"If we fail to reach an agreement from one or the other's budget, it would not prevent the project necessarily from going forward," Weinaug said. "If the school for some reason is not able to participate, it may obviously take more time."
Along with the money element of Winchester Road, an interchange at K-10 highway and Winchester Road tied with four other projects at second place in a recent development review panel rating, part of the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) System Enhancement Program. Under the program, KDOT grades each project on how it will affect economic development, impact on traffic safety and how much local government contributes to the project's completion. Taylor said the city has already worked out a rough plan on how much it is willing to spend for the interchange.
"They (KDOT) assign points for each of those categories and that assigns what will get done," Taylor said. "I believe the city is willing to put roughly 20% forward for its completion, mostly in preparation for the design of the project and relocation of any utilities, and acquisition of right of way if necessary. KDOT will pay for the rest."
Approval for the Winchester interchange could be within two weeks or eight months at the latest, Taylor said.