Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2001

Oz vote deadlocked again

March 22, 2001

A change on the Johnson County Commission failed to produce a decision on Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

As it did last November, the commission deadlocked 2-2 on Oz's $861 million proposal that would build the Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort at the closed plant. Commissioner Susie Wolf voted no, just as her predecessor Johnna Lingle did in November.

But, also like the earlier vote, the deadlock didn't resolve the issue. After the tie vote, the commission agreed to hire a consultant to perform a feasibility study on the financial information Oz included in its redevelopment proposal.

Johnson County Commissioner Susie Wolf gives great consideration to
her vote before the commission's meeting on the current Oz
proposal. The commission deadlocked on the plan once again at last
Thursday's meeting.

Johnson County Commissioner Susie Wolf gives great consideration to her vote before the commission's meeting on the current Oz proposal. The commission deadlocked on the plan once again at last Thursday's meeting.

Commission Chairman Doug Wood said the study would take from six to eight months and cost from $80,000 to $100,000. The commission also agreed to ask the Kansas Legislature to extend the deadline on the Sunflower redevelopment enabling legislation for another year. The statute that allows the Kansas Development Finance Authority to issue sales tax revenue bonds and tax increment financing bonds for the plant's redevelopment ends July 1.

In announcing their opposition, Wolf and Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh repeated their concern over the lack of independent verification of the Oz financial plan.

Wolf voiced concern the Sunflower transfer agreement Oz negotiated with the Army and the U.S. General Services Administration was so complicated it invited lawsuits that would delay the plant's redevelopment.

With the Army scheduled to clean the plant in 12 years, Wolf said the county should consider other uses that would honor the men who fought and died using products produced at Sunflower.

Once the tie vote was recorded, Oz supporter Commissioner George Gross made a motion to ask the Legislature to extend the deadline on the enabling legislation so that the commission could have a consultant review Oz's financial plan.

Surbaugh said she would support the motion with two amendments. She asked Oz to make a commitment that any of its infrastructure needs would not divert revenue from projects elsewhere in the county.

Oz has already made that commitment, Surbaugh conceded, but she said she wanted that assurance in writing to allay fears that have been raised during public hearings on the Oz proposal.

Surbaugh further asked that Oz restrict the use of sales tax revenue collected in its Sunflower development not needed to retire sales tax revenue bonds. The "uncommitted revenue" should be used to pay for infrastructure cost, not to pay off investors or stockholders, she said.

"I want it to go for something I can walk on, not to some New York investor," she said. "The people living in the county are the ones taking the risk. We ought to benefit."

Oz lawyer John Peterson said the company would accept the amendments, although he added the company had already agreed to the stipulations.

An independent review would confirm Oz's financial plan is sound, Peterson said.

The commission would start discussing its search for a consultant for the study as soon as it gets an indication from the Legislature that it would extend the deadline of the enabling legislation.

Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner, said Tuesday that process has already begun and said the request was likely to face little opposition in the Legislature. Two House committees had hearings on the proposal Wednesday, he said.

Ballou said he thought Wolf was right in suggesting the county should search for alternatives to Oz. Ballou said he would introduce an amendment to the proposed legislation that would direct the state to search for other proposals for Sunflower's redevelopment.

"Everybody is so concerned about getting going. I think we should have something ready in case Oz falls through or somebody comes forward with something better," he said.

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