About 50 area residents attended a town hall meeting Aug. 24 at the Gardner Senior Center to voice concerns and learn about the proposed renewal of the half-cent special sales tax. The tax would be dedicated to improving the city’s infrastructure through construction and rehabilitation for roads and streets. The special election takes place by mail beginning August 26.
The public works department recommends $6.6 million is needed over the next three years and after 2019 having $615,000 budgeted into the operational budget to cover the rest of the costs to repair the city’s infrastructure.
Abdul Yahaya, city engineer, presented the Pavement Management Program on behalf of the public works department. He said pavement management has three tiers: Street Maintenance, Preservation and Repair & Reconstruct.
“We need to be ‘Pro-Active in Keeping Good Roads Good.’ Streets have a life cycle, but if they’re not maintained they won’t sustain,” he said. “Everyone wants shiny, paved black roads, but that’s the most expensive and least cost-effective.”
Yahaya explained that 205 lane miles in Gardner are in need of repair. He said that two-thirds of the roads are in fair condition, but that this is the last stage of a road that a significant amount of money can be invested into them for repair that allows for the best monetary value.
“We need to budget funds in order to have a street system worthy of being proud of,” he said. “Maintaining roads is cheaper than reconstructing them. I want to be fiscally responsible with the funds we have. I appreciate the input of this community in helping to get this right.”
Lee Moore, council member and head of the Streets, Sidewalks and Stormwater Advisory Committee, addressed concerns he had heard about the renewal.
“The old one expires on Dec. 31st of this year, and this one would start on January 1st of next year,” he said. “You’re already paying a half-cent sales tax. Old tax. New tax. However you want to think of it, it’s the same tax. The sales tax rate will remain the same as it does today.”
A discussion among residents then broke out about concerns with the Aquatic Center. Residents wanted to know why the sales tax was put towards the city pool and not infrastructure, if the infrastructure needs drastic, immediate repair. The special sales tax originated in 2005 for Celebration Park and Gardner Aquatic Center.
Moore said the pool was an amenity and service to residents. “It wasn’t made to make money, but to draw people into the community,” he said. “Yes, we as a city decided we wanted to spend more money on parks and pools than street maintenance. And that’s how we got where we are today.”
Residents asked city council members what the main contributing factor was to the damage on the roads.
Brian Faust, public works director, said roads don’t live forever. “Truck driving does some damage. And if you look in the older parts of town—it’s drought or too much water from recent rains and not enough maintenance.”
Moore added, “Streets, sidewalks, trails and curbs need a ‘shot in the arm.’ Let’s get ourselves on a nice, healthy track for maintenance of our streets.”
“The issue we have had is that we’ve been reactive,” said Steve Shute, council president. “We’re trying to be proactive. If we get rid of the big issues, we can absorb it in the budget, but we have to catch the roads up to where they need to be first.”
Chris Morrow, mayor, said that the sales tax will also be paid by non-city residents. “People outside of Gardner, shop in Gardner. They don’t pay taxes, but they use our roads,” he said.
Residents also voiced concern about how the city will come up with the money to repair the infrastructure with only sales tax.
Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, said, “We anticipate that it will take 1 million a year and that the city will borrow the money and use the sales tax to pay for the debt.”
Walter Hermreck, Gardner resident, asked the council, “If this fails, what are we looking at? What are our options?”
Morrow mentioned that Mission, Kansas used a “driveway tax” to fund their roads that turned out to be unconstitutional, so their city is raising their mill levy. “We should be able to do this with the sales tax in the years going forward. So often you manage the crisis, and this will manage the process in the years going forward.”
Shute added, “Every year we defer this the more it’s going to cost,” he said. “$615,000 will be absorbed into the operational budget. We can’t have the sales tax after 10 years. Where do we want to see this community in ten years? So we never have to do another renewal.”
Morrow emphasized that in the past the city has had a reactive response to infrastructure needs and repairs, once the roads are showing wear or are un-drivable, instead of being proactive.
“When we bring these items to you, we’re trusting you. We managed to get ourselves into this pickle, and we have to get ourselves out”, he said.
Special election is taking place by mail beginning, tomorrow, Wednesday August 26th to pay for construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure. All ballots must be returned to the Johnson County Election Office by noon on Sept.15, 2015. Gardner residents have to be registered by today in order to vote. They can register to vote at www.jocoelection.org.
For more information on Gardner’s Comprehensive Pavement Management Program:
City hosts forum on sales tax ballot question