The Emporia City Commission approved an agreement with Emporia Main Street Development Group, LLC., during the action session of Wednesday’s meeting.
There was much discussion among commissioners about the decision, which basically guarantees that the parking lot on the 1000 block of Commercial Street will be accessible for Chelsea Loft tenants.
An easement was not approved, and the agreement will not go into effect until after the lot is actually completed, which the easement will follow.
The vote passed with three votes in favor; Commissioner Bobbi Mlynar opposed, and Mayor Jon Geitz abstained.
Mlynar made it clear that she was not against the project, but as a matter of principle, she thought that the parking area — which will be in front of the proposed 50 residential units — should not be considered public because tenants will take up most of the lot.
“I just can’t go along with that,” Mlynar said. “I think that we’ve been very fair. I think everyone at the table agrees that there is just no way you’re going to take back a parking lot.
“Especially when there’s potential for more apartments in that area. You’re going to need more parking rather than less, and I’m just offended that our developers do not trust the city government as much as the city government trusts the developers.”
The counter to her argument was that tenants will not have first rights to parking spaces and will have to purchase parking passes.
How the lot will be handled will rest upon the traffic safety committee and their ultimate recommendation to the commission, but it’s expected that the lot will be treated the same as all other lots in the area.
Along with the 50 residential units, there will be 1,500 square feet of commercial space, adding to the parking issues.
Assistant City Manager Jim Witt estimated that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the tenants at Chelsea would be students at Emporia State University, and could very well walk to class while leaving their vehicles taking up parking spots.
“I guess human nature being as it is, it’s hard to predict,” Witt said. “Who’s gonna walk and who’s gonna drive, 50/50 is the best guess we’re gonna do.”
So far, the city’s financial commitment as far as rebates, bonds and other incentives comes to a total of $149,785.
City Attorney Blaise Plummer said that in the future an easement would go with the land, but the transfer would have to be approved by commissioners. A sale can not happen until the bonds are paid off.
After the vote, the commission moved directly to the study session.
Information on street projects was presented, namely work on South Avenue from Prairie to West Streets, and on Prairie Street from Sixth Avenue heading north with an alternate bid that goes to 30th Avenue.
Commissioners discussed the option of putting in concrete versus asphalt.
Prairie is currently a concrete base with roughly two inches of asphalt on top, as is most of South Avenue. Both have several areas with dips and cracks.
The current estimate is from $700,000 to $800,000 to mill down and replace the asphalt. Concrete would require a full rebuild and take money from other 2015 street projects. $1.2 million was budget for the work on Prairie Street and South Avenue.
A comparison of concrete versus the proposed asphalt work and a staff recommendation will be presented to the commission at a future study session. Construction is expected to start in May and last about six weeks.
City treasurer Janet Harrouff presented the 2014 year-end financial summary.
In the general fund, the unencumbered cash balance is $3,540,316, roughly $800,000 above the budgeted amount.
Reasons for this are that sales taxes, franchise taxes, ambulance charges, court fines and fees and false alarm fees were significantly higher. Fuel costs, office machines and other commodities were also lower than budgeted.
In the multi-year fund, numbers were down because of the state’s sales tax formula and the increase in the county’s valuation.
A total of $668,658 was carried over for 2014, and a balance of $844,430 has been carried over to 2015.
“We had a solid financial year in 2014,” Harrouff said. “Every single fund ended with higher-than-budgeted unencumbered cash balances.
“All in all, the funds are doing great. However, we need to be cautious and not spend any of these reserve levels because we don’t know what’s coming down the pipe from the state.”
As budget season approaches, there was discussion on how to move forward for 2016 and beyond.
“These are all great numbers,” Commissioner Rob Gilligan said. “But to me, we’re always so conservative in the summer and we’re so worried about it, and we always get beat up because we’re adopting a deficit budget. Our goal is not to adopt a deficit budget.
“Even though at the end of the year we always know that the budget turns out better… I just don’t want to miss out on opportunities. We can spend ‘X’ dollars fixing problems constantly, or we can spend ‘Y’ dollars repairing it and doing preventative maintenance, and in the long term it saves us money.”
The city’s animal ordinance also came up during the study session.
Plummer said that his office is currently working on drafting the ordinance, but he pointed out that enforcement is going to be the biggest concern for the city.
He said that he will be prepared to present something to the city in March. Commissioners agreed that another public hearing should be held before they make any decision on the issue.