Danedri Thompson
Gardner won’t be updating its comprehensive plan in 2012. Council members agreed to save the proposed $75,000 expenditure in the 2012 budget.
“I can’t see spending $75,000 when we have streets we haven’t touched in a long time,” council member Brian Broxterman said.
Under the staff proposed expenditure, $75,000 would’ve been used to hire consultants to do a thorough review of the city’s plan for the future.
Planning commissioner Dan Popp advocated for the project. He reminded council that the plan hadn’t been updated since 1996, although staff revisions were added to the plan in 2003 and 2008.
The update would serve as a business plan for the city, he said.
“I’ve been told in being an architect, if you fail to plan, you’re ultimately planning to fail,” he said.
The existing plan maps out specific undeveloped areas for development as commercial, residential or other uses.
The 1996 plan, Popp said, mapped park land where Celebration Park is now, and set aside land for the water treatment plant near the park.
“This is something that is going to be well worth the citizens’ and your time,” Popp told the council.
Roger Kroh, a former Lenexa city planner and current Mid-America Regional Council director, explained that city comprehensive plans must be reviewed each year by state statute.
“The recommended practice is that cities do major reviews once a decade,” Kroh said.
The plan should create a road map for growth that transcends changing council and staff members.
The proposed cost of $75,000 is about right, although Kroh said he understood the budget pressure council members face today.
The majority of the expense would be used by a consultant to secure public participation in the plan update, he said.
“That’s the hardest to do and the most expensive,” he said. “It’s a good way to get people to buy in to what you’re doing.”
Council member Chris Morrow proposed doing some sort of council or staff-led public participation process.
“At this time, I wonder if this is something that could be updated instead of overhauled,” Morrow said.
Kroh said he’s never seen any city completely throw out an old plan. The update as proposed would instead add information like a Kansas Department of Transportation U.S. 56 Highway Corridor Study to the existing plan as well as making changes to the 1996 plan.
Council member Larry Fotovich said as a realtor people often ask him what will be built in empty lots in town.
“I can tell them how it’s zoned, but no one ever asks to see the comprehensive plan,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone losing sleep at night if we stick with the plans we have.”
Fotovich also expressed concerns that the 1996 plan wasn’t followed.
Gardner also has yet to establish agreed-upon annexation borders with the city of Edgerton. Morrow said he’d like to see that accomplished before spending money on a plan update.
However, council member Kristina Harrison said after sitting through several discussions with Edgerton officials last year, she doesn’t think that border issue will ever be resolved.
Harrison is often a tie-breaker on the council of five.
“I personally believe in the importance of this. I think it’s valuable,” she told the council. “I am not sold that this is the most important needs that we should be spending $75,000.”
She suggested the $75,000 be allocated somewhere else in the 2012 budget.
City finance director Laura Gourley explained that the city will send a budget to the state for certification that anticipates spending all available funds.
“We allocate every cent as if we’re going to spend it,” she said.
That doesn’t mean the city has to spend the money. Instead, anything left over can be rolled into the 2013 budget and allocated for other projects.
Fotovich, however, said he’d like to give the funds back to the taxpayers in the form of a lower mill levy. He worried that city officials would spend the money if it was left in the fund balance.
“It’s kind of like having a higher credit card limit,” he said.
However, Mayor Dave Drovetta disagreed.
“It’s like having the funds available to spend,” Drovetta said.
Morrow said the city should retain the funding, because the 2012 budget already proposes a mill levy increase of 1.5 mills to fund three new police officers. The proposed budget also uses reserve funding to make up the difference between revenues and expenditures.
In other business, council members:
• listened to a presentation about the parks improvement, special parks and parks sales tax funds. Jeff Stewart, parks and recreation director, said typically the parks department uses money from developers — specifically $680 per new dwelling to purchase and build new parks. However, with limited development those funds are dwindling.
In the meantime, money from the general fund will be used to pay down debt on Celebration Park and the Gardner Aquatic Center. The projects were to be funded by a 10-year sales tax, however when the park and pool tax originated, city officials anticipated another big box store to help finance the projects.
• discussed forming a storm water steering committee that would consider creating a storm water utility. City engineer Celia Duran said the city has identified storm water projects totaling more than $4 million, however, there are no funds available for such projects. If the city instituted a storm water utility, citizens could be assessed storm water fees on their bills.
Council members agreed to create a steering committee with the possibility of putting the idea on a ballot. The committee would also debate whether a city utility would fund residential drainage issues in Gardner yards.
Duran said city officials have identified 40 addresses that could use funding to improve drainage issues. Those projects would cost an estimated $2.6 million. She said some of the problems were the result of bad design originally, and Fotovich said he’d prefer to fix those regulation issues before asking taxpayers to foot the bill citywide.
“I would not be in favor of spending $2.6 million for 40 houses,” he said. “…Don’t  you think we should solve future developments first?… Don’t you think it’s advisable to plug the hole before we start bailing water out?”