Council, community address growing pains
A recent discussion of sewer rate increases brought Eudora's growing pains and the costs associated with Eudora's rapid growth to the forefront.
According to a recent census update, Eudora's population has grown 12 percent since July 2000. With that growth have come costs to the city, including engineering fees associated with new developments seeking approval from the city.
The city is already over budget on engineering fees, which City Administrator Mike Yanez said a lot had to do with the number of subdivisions seeking approval.
At Monday night's Eudora City Council meeting, Council member Scott Hopson said he hoped to resuscitate a discussion of so-called pass-through fees. The fees would have developers pay for city engineering costs associated with changes to their plans.
"I don't think the City Council's doing everything it can to save (Eudorans) money," Hopson said.
At the next Council meeting, Hopson said he wanted to start the discussion again and see what the city could have recouped from developers. City engineer Cecil Kingsley said the engineering costs associated with changed plans were minimal if done without debate between the city and developers.
"Debate can save money for the community," Kinglsey said. "But it can also mean multiple meetings and additional costs."
Fellow Council member Tom Pyle said the city should curb its engineering fees, citing conceptual plans for a new public safety building, the engineering study costs for which City Administrator Mike Yanez had been criticized. Pyle called the engineering fees a waste of money.
Council member Dan Gregg said engineering funds for development needed to be passed on, but he said it was money well spent.
"With the exception of the Mayor (Ron Conner, an engineer), we don't know these engineering studies," Gregg said.Kathy Hernandez, the wastewater treatment plant's operator, said she was working to implement cost-saving measures, such as reducing and eliminating sludge removal, that would save the city tens of thousands of dollars if not more.
"All city workers can find ways to save money," she said.
As citizens spoke out at the meeting about sewer rates, some, like Fred Freeland, questioned the idea that growth was always a good thing. He said with a larger tax base it was presented that property taxes shouldn't go up. But, he said, new development never seemed to carry growing infrastructure, like new schools.
"This City Council has control over who builds houses in this city," he said. "People don't have control."
Mayor Conner said the city could choose to slow down growth, but he said that could pose other problems like getting utilities past outlying areas.
"You always struggle with the reality that areas will grow as a rural development," Conner said. "Growth will likely happen anyway, whether it's inside the city limits or out."
This spring the Council looked at excise taxes, which would assess new development to help pay transportation costs associated with growth, whether they be new roads or amenities like bike trails and sidewalks. But the issue lost steam and was tabled for further discussion.
Council members and citizens alike emphasized the need for commercial growth, which is assessed at 33 percent of its appraised value as opposed to the 11.5 percent assessment rate of residential property.
Eudoran Mary Dahn asked the Council why there hadn't been an emphasis on drawing business to the Intech Business Park, downtown and to the commercial area at 14th and Church streets.
"The Chamber of Commerce should be trying to pull business into Eudora," she said.
Council member Rex Burkhardt echoed the need for commercial business. Burkhardt said Eudora needed to capitalize on its presence on the Kansas Highway 10 corridor.
"I see De Soto's been aggressive at commercial development," Burkhardt said.
Burkhardt noted De Soto had a full-time director for the Chamber of Commerce who also served as leader of the De Soto Economic Development Council, a position financed in part by the city. Eudora's Chamber of Commerce is staffed by volunteers.
"The Chamber's goal is to get businesses to move here, but it's difficult on a very volunteer, part-time basis to get that accomplished," said Theresa Abel, Chamber of Commerce president.
Abel, who is also general manager of The Eudora News, said existing commercial space at 14th and Church streets was occupied and that available downtown storefronts were filling in.
"Some of these places that have been empty are full again," she said. "I feel like we have had people inquiring about our town regularly, and something is drawing them here."
Last year, the city made efforts to get a downtown redevelopment grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing, but the grant required matching funds from the private sector, which proved to be a burden to downtown business and property owners. Moreover, the project required the formation of a downtown business association, which never got off the ground.
Earlier this year, City Administrator Mike Yanez said the city could look at other ways of developing downtown, especially with county-city cooperation on upgrading Main Street.