Special to The Gardner News
Six Gardner citizens engaged in a brainstorming session on Feb. 2 at the Citizen Budget Forum held by the city, and Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, presented a summary of the meeting to the city council Feb. 15.
She said the citizens prioritized four strategic goals for the 2017 budget process. They were: promoting economic development; improving quality of life; infrastructure and asset management and fiscal stewardship.
Other things included more involvement from and with the Gardner Edgerton Chamber more festivals, a community center, citizen engagement opportunities, reducing truck traffic, reducing traffic signal timing at Moonlight, Main and Lincoln streets and reducing spending by three percent.
It’s was very important the council hears from citizens, said Steve Schute, council member.
“I am disappointed more people didn’t come out,” he said.
He then asked Harrison-Lee if they could take some of their budget presentation away from city hall and into the neighborhoods.
“Anyway we can get into the neighborhoods more? – going out to the people,” he said.
Kristy Harrison, council member, suggested leveraging a committee.
Chris Morrow, mayor, said they could possibly hold an additional meeting at the schools. “An additional outreach effort to achieve more results,” he said.
Harrison, also, suggested more website and social media presence as an option for engagement.
Morrow then talked about a successful online town hall meeting that Wichita had held for their citizens recently.
“Maybe we can do something similar,” he said. “As always our citizens are welcome to show up at any of our meetings and make public comments. I’m always willing to see a lot more emails and calls from constituents.”
Council revises economic incentive plan
Council members approved a revised economic development incentive policy for businesses that wish to develop in the city. The original economic development incentive policy was adopted on April 20, 2015. The revision will include a public infrastructure financing program.
Herb Hardwick, founder of Hardwick Law Firm, said it was a great opportunity for Gardner. By shifting the financing to the developers the city saves money, he said.
The city now has incentives of waiving the one time development fees, deferring cost of utilities and utilizing tax abatements, Hardwick said. This would be done through a point system put in place by the city based on geographical area, the jobs created, high-paying jobs and the revenue created from the new businesses developed, he said.
“By bundling and using a point system, the city is able to direct development and reward developers,” he said. Hardwick gave fictitious examples to illustrate how the point system would work for the city and developers.
Schute, said he was glad the city was working on this.
“I’ve been pushing this for a long time,” he said. “This system makes it equal for those who want to come to town. I’m trying to let the public know and allow developers to get up front the capital for projects. If I wanted infrastructure and development at the same time, this allows infrastructure needs on their time frame.”
Hardwick said it was a major motivation.
“Developers move quickly,” he said. “This expedites projects, and they can make their own schedules.”
Morrow said development within a municipality is a partnership with developers and cities. “It’s an incentive to them, because they put skin in the game,” he said.
Lee Moore, council member, said he wasn’t sure how the point incentive program worked.
“Is it scored on the front end or after the development,” he said. “I can tell you one thing and then reality happens, so would citizens be on the hook then?”
Hardwick said they would score businesses on the front end. “But if you don’t perform, we can recover or recoup some of the benefits and incentives,” he said. “There is a safeguard for the public.”
Moore said he was concerned it didn’t say that on the contract.
Harrison asked Hardwick about a benefit growth plan. “If you’re building a company and hire 100 employees above pay, it’s [the benefits] phased in and not done on day one,” she said.
Matt Wolf, interim finance director, said it was in the contract.
Todd Winters, council member, wanted to know from a company perspective how it was going to be a benefit to them.
Hardwick said the ability to control an entire project was the benefit.
“They will feel more comfortable when they can control the cost,” he said. “They can control the entire shebang and not coordinate their schedules with the city. It will have a major impact and create potential savings for the company.”
Schute said the city is looking for retail, commercial and light industrial developments.
“We want to direct a certain type of development to our city,” he said.
Rich Melton, council member, said it gives options. “It sets the standard for southern Johnson County,” he said.
Morrow agreed with Melton. “It distinguishes ourselves in a good way,” he said. “We get developers interested in places there isn’t utilities in the ground. We form partnerships, they have skin in the game, and we’re paying them back over time.”
Schute said it’ll work for certain businesses, but it’s not a one size fits all program.
Hardwick said they can’t underscore timing. “Sooner they are in the ground the more success they’ll have,” he said.
And if they fail, the infrastructure is in place, Melton said.
Harrison asked if they could assign points by area – from areas that have decayed and need redevelopment.
Schute said there are islands of the city not being developed.
Hardwick said he appreciated the council members creative and insightful suggestions.
“Developers want certainty and the ability to keep their schedules,” Morrow said.
Hardwick said they had adopted the policy a year ago. “I am excited for you guys,” he said. “The more that is put in place and becomes institutionalized-it really enhances the City of Gardner,” he said.
In other business:
• After much discussion about adopting ordinances to approve amendments for the Gardner Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 5 Land Use and Development to the I-35 and Gardner Road Interchange Plan, council members tabled the discussion for a later date. Leonard Faucet with 70 AC, LLC asked the city to make an exception for a 28 acre triangle shaped property.
“The way the land lays, you wouldn’t want your front of the house facing I-35, but your backyard would be,” he said. “Everyone could see your business.”
He said the land was originally zoned for employment zoning destinations. “We feel strongly if this is rezoned it will compromise the land for the city,” he said. “That’s going to terminate any future discussion for business. Please consider making an exception on this parcel of land to keep zoned as 3C.”
Melton said he had a bit of a problem if the land is zoned one way and then rezoned as another.
“I would ask if the city knew what it was doing,” he said. “It muddies the water with the potential people who want to invest in that area,” he said.
• Council members approved accepting the dedication of rights-of-way and easements for Copper Springs IV. The area is located at the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection of University Drive and 162nd Terrace. The heavy truck traffic will be redirected. The area will eventually be developed for 180 houses.
• Gardner, also, approved the ordinances extending the franchise agreements with both Kansas Gas and Atmos Energy Corporation. The extension is until August 2016 to make them more uniform, Paul Denk, city attorney said. “The rates won’t change for the individual consumer,” he said.
• Ray Doerr was reappointed for a new term with the Airport Advisory Board. His term expires January 2019. Chad Tate was also appointed to fill Peter Yazbec’s vacancy on the Airport Advisory Board. His term will expire January 2018. Christopher Reecht, city prosecutor, resigned. Alex McCauley has been appointed as the City Prosecutor Pro Tempore starting March 1, 2016.