Archive for Thursday, May 1, 2003

Benefit district specifications negotiable

May 1, 2003

A proposed benefit district for the neighborhood near the Eudora Nursing Center has the benefit of flexibility, engineers told the Eudora City Council last week during a study session on the project that would bring streets up to current standards.

"Benefit districts can be any way you want them to be," said Cecil Kingsley, one of the city's on-call engineers at BG Consultants.

He also told the Council that a benefit district wouldn't be confined to the proposed area, which roughly encompasses an area squared off by 14th and 15th streets on the north and south and by Elm and Acorn on the east and west.

"Include everything that makes sense with the understanding you can back off," he said.

If nearby neighbors liked what they saw and wanted to get in on the deal, which would give them updated streets with the city kicking in a portion of the cost, they could do so, he said. A bigger area would mean a lower cost, he said, and a smaller job would mean higher bid prices.

Brian Kinglsey, also of BG Consultants, said the estimated cost was the most expensive scenario for the project. By those calculations, the project for the proposed area would come in at just more than $2 million. If the benefit district went along a 90-10 split, members of the district would owe more than $1.8 million, and the city would be responsible for slightly more than $203,000.

A benefit district can be created using method that must be approved by the majority of property owners or residents, he said. Moreover, Kingsley said no one property could determine the fate of a benefit district, including USD 491. With Nottingham Elementary School, the district occupies a considerable amount of real estate on Elm Street. But, Council member Tom Pyle said, a government entity couldn't vote to take itself off the tax rolls.

The split between how much the city would pay and how much the residents would pay is another way in which the benefit district offers flexibility. Kingsley said a 90-10 split was sometimes considered too measly for residents to vote in favor of a benefit district. However, Kingsley also warned against following Ottawa's lead and having the city take on the majority of the cost. Still, cities can negotiate with residents on issues like sidewalks and intersections in order to reach agreement.

City Administrator Mike Yanez said Kingsley and other engineers should look at an 80-20 resident-city split before coming back to the city for more discussions and a public meeting for residents.

In addition, the city will also have to document what streets and properties should be excluded from the district because they've already been part of a benefit district that brought at least part of the streets up to the city standard. Council member Tom Pyle said contrary to what's been said, Eudora has had benefit districts before.

"We can't just make them do it again," Pyle said. "I don't want this City Council to be blamed for making people pay again."

Kingsley said he looked at the need for upgrades not as a result of the proposed Grand Addition, south of the area in question, but rather as the project spurring changes.

"Small cities let streets get put in with gravel or dirt, not to standard," he said. "All of a sudden housing all around town is on streets not up to standard, but (new) subdivisions have to be up to standard."

If the measure failed, Kingsley suggested the city look at whether subdivisions should go in the area.

Benefits for the city and homeowners, Kingsley said, included better valuations and likely lower maintenance costs than chip and seal streets. Houses would be assessed the same, so that those living on collector streets would not be charged more, he said.

Moreover, Kinglsey said interest rates were low, and contractors that usually worked for the state were hungry for work. Yet Council member Rex Burkhardt said that was the thinking behind putting forth a vote on a bond for a new swimming pool, which failed last month.

Fellow Council member Don Durkin reminded the city it had to be conscious what it charged taxpayers, especially considering other projects the city had in the works, including a downtown development proposal and pushing forward for a new swimming pool. Scott Hopson, another Council member, said the city should also remember that it -- and taxpayers -- would be financially responsible for maintaining the upgrades.

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