City commissioners received an overview on state government during an action session Wednesday morning, hearing from Senator Jeff Longbine and representatives Eric Smith and Mark Schreiber on a variety of upcoming issues to be debated during January’s legislative session.
Longbine began the discussion by focusing on budgetary matters, saying Kansas was in relatively good shape money-wise, but also that lawmakers needed to work diligently to allocate funds to the right areas.
“We’re probably in the best shape we’ve been in in years, and years, and years,” Longbine said. “Our revenue numbers continue to be extremely strong, in fact, our revenue estimators increased our expected revenue for [fiscal year] 2020 and 2021 by $250 million per year. Revenues continue to be strong, but we need balance.”
“We have money now, so a lot of people and organizations are going to be asking for it,” Smith added. “It’s an issue of, ‘what can we do this year knowing that we have bills coming up in the very near future?’ It’s good that we have this extra revenue, but we have to be very, very careful in the sense that we’re set up for the payments we already promised to education.”
Schreiber mentioned two proposed projects — a 10-year highway update plan and continued broadband expansion in rural areas — as some of the areas the state would look to allocate the extra funds.
“We want to expand broadband, especially in rural areas, but also just outside Emporia, Topeka, Wichita — you pick the city,” Schreiber said. “They can’t get it out there, at least at speeds that people need. This isn’t about getting Netflix to work; this is about being able to attract business, having effective emergency response and things like that. It’s critical in some areas, especially in rural areas that are trying to keep towns viable with existing attorneys, doctors offices, or whatever it might be. The plans I’ve heard so far reflect what some of the other states have done with sort of a grant-like program. The state will match some local dollars or private dollars to expand in certain areas.”
David Traylor Zoo Director Lisa Keith approached commissioners with updates on the organization’s planned renovations to facility entryways and the waterfowl pond. She said the zoo will move forward with the lowest bid from local contractor Mitchell-Markowitz. The expected cost of the project will be approximately $842,000, about $700,000 of which has already been pledged by the Emporia Friends of the Zoo. Keith said the gap would most likely be filled by more donations, or be covered by cost-adjusting measures during the project.
Commissioners urged Keith to confirm EFOZ’s ability to fund the project before continuing. Some suggested the prospect of utilizing existing city park money for construction, agreeing to review where costs could be cut or redistributed in order to help the zoo.
“If we’re committed to the zoo and our donors have committed to this, maybe we should have a conversation about not lessening the quality of the materials and lessening the quality of the project and we find the funds,” Commissioner Rob Gilligan said. “We’ve got a park fund that has dollars in it that I think could possibly be available. It would be valuable to us and to the community to have a good conversation, whether we decide to value-engineer or we decide to identify the resources to do the project in the way it was designed and the way we envisioned it.”
Discussion on the issue is planned to resume during the Nov. 27 commission meeting.
Sewer and road projects
City Engineer Jim Ubert provided commissioners with updated cost estimates on the approaching sewer line project on South Arundel Street. Ubert said costs would likely be covered in-part by FEMA grants once submitted for reimbursement.
“Estimated cost from BG Consultants [on the sewer project] is $735,000,” Ubert said. “The project has been proposed to be paid for with temp notes and then rolled into the bond issuance. We may roll that into the wastewater management plant bond issue or a separate issuance.”
Ubert also said plans for the paving of Road 180 from Road G — and accompanying storm drain improvements — were moving forward as planned, with KDOT hopefully making a significant dent in the $975,000 cost estimate.
“The KDOT program covers 100 percent of the construction costs, but remaining costs would still have to be covered outside of that,” Ubert said. “We had applied for going all the way to Road F, which would’ve been a $3.5 million project. This only goes along the front of the plat for [Evergy].”