Danedri Thompson
Annexation, eminent domain and transportation districts are a few of the issues upon which Gardner City Council members may formally stake positions. The group discussed a proposed state legislative agenda during a work session on Monday night.
The five page document outlines 15 issues and the city’s official position on them. If adopted, it will be sent as a letter to legislators.
“These are items the governing body believes are important for your community,” interim-city administrator Mike Press said.
Press said the agenda may urge changes to state statutes or support existing statutes.
“This is really formulating legislation – law – at the state level,” Press explained.
As proposed, the city would oppose legislation that would directly or indirectly limit the city’s powers of annexation, eminent domain and the ability to impose development fees.
For example, assistant city administrator Melissa Mundt told the council, the city of Gardner things the way eminent domain is addressed in state statute is fine.
“We use it when necessary, but it isn’t a matter this community has ever taken lightly,” she said.
She said the formal support for existing eminent domain laws is due to certain legislators and individuals who lobby for stricter eminent domain rules.
“There are literally people who believe you shouldn’t ever be able to (declare eminent domain),” Mundt said.
Some communities go a step further and send advocates to lobby for their positions to Topeka during the legislative session. In the past, Mundt said, Gardner officials have traveled to Topeka to advocate for certain legislation. Primarily those lobbying trips were related to the intermodal project. Last year, no city officials advocated on behalf of the city of Gardner during the legislative session. However, the Kansas League of Municipalities, an organization to which the city belongs, has a presence in Topeka and lobbies on behalf of its members every year.
A legislative agenda by itself is a more passive approach.
“It just depends on what the issues are and how involved or active you want to get in promoting certain things,” Press said.
Council member Larry Fotovich proposed adding two items to the proposed agenda. One would advocate for legislation related to how cities are able to invest its funds, and a second would prohibit taxing land as agriculture if it isn’t in fact used for agriculture.
“We’re losing a lot of money,” Fotovich said. “We all want more revenues.”
Agricultural land is taxed at lower rates than other land uses, but Press said it’s been tried before with little success.
“You can put it on, but you’re not going to get any traction in Topeka,” Mundt said.
City staff will give council members a summary of Fotovich’s proposals before council members vote to formally adopt its legislative agenda. Press said that would allow everyone to understand the issues before deciding whether to include them.
In other business, city council members decided to delay a discussion about water and wastewater funds. The discussion was scheduled at the behest of council members during the Nov. 7 meeting to help council members understand how a public-private partnership (p-3) might affect the utility funds.
After two-plus hours of third quarter updates from department heads, council members opted to delay what they estimate will be a two hour discussion about the utilities.
Mayor Dave Drovetta said the council’s inability to hear staff’s presentation on the topic will not delay an upcoming vote on whether to accept a proposal for a public-private partnership in December.
Council will next meet at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 at city hall.