Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
The city has been envisioning a new justice center for a long time.
A 2013 study graded the police facilities as inadequate.
An architect’s study done in 2015 to determine community needs and cost estimated $8.9 million for construction. Current cost to build the facility in 2018 is $13.7 million.
In 2016, the city purchased 15 acres of land off 167th Street for the facility, which would serve as police headquarters and municipal court.
Since then, council has been working on how to pay for the project.

Take it to the voters
At the May 1 meeting, council considered adopting a resolution calling for an August 1 bond election.
Voters will be asked if the city should issue $13,725,000 in General Obligation Bonds to finance, construct and equip a new justice center facility.
The city expects to spread payments over 20 years, maturing in 2037.
Interest rate is estimated at 3.4 percent.
The city would pay an annual principal and interest payment of around $950,000.
Estimated annual property tax mill rate levy necessary for principal and interest payments – 4.081 mills.
The total amount paid at end of term would be above $19 million.

Ballot language
Lee Moore, council member, was concerned with the proposed ballot language, which stated the facility is “to be used as a law enforcement center and community building …”
The words “community building” sounds too much like “community center,” Moore said.
“My concern is, I don’t want anyone that votes for this to think that they’re getting a community center,” said Moore.
The new facility has never been planned to feature a community center per se, however it is expected to include flexible space that could be used for community purposes.
In the past, council rejected a financial option specifically because it mandated that space could not be used for community purposes.
Michael Kramer, public works director, told council, “It’s only community space that allows you to have the election.”
Laura Gourley, finance director, agreed with Kramer and explained that ‘flexible space’ is required by law to bring this issue to the voters.
“If you pull out the flexible space, now you do not have the authority to delegate this decision to the voters. You’d decide. And there would be no flexible space,” she told council.
Tyler Ellsworth, bond counsel, agreed that flexible space was required and said it couldn’t be a ballot question without it.
Members agreed they didn’t want anyone to think they were voting for a community center – yet the word community needed to stay in there.
After tweaking, it was decided that the ballot language would read:
Shall the following be adopted?
Shall the city of Gardner, Kansas, issue general obligation bonds in the amount not exceeding $13,725,000 to pay costs of constructing and equipping a facility on a site owned by the city to be used as a justice center to house the police department, municipal court and other community uses together with all things necessary and incidental thereto, all pursuant to the provisions of K.S.A. 12-1736 et seq. and K.S.A. 10-101 et seq.?

Is it affordable?
The Notice of Bond Election handout states:
“General obligation bonds are, by definition, a pledge of the full faith, credit and resources of the city. Such bonds are payable from property taxes which may be levied without limit within the city in order to pay principal and interest. Amounts paid by taxpayers in the city may increase as a result of the issuance of general obligation bonds to finance the proposed project.”
Rich Melton, council member, expressed reservations about taking on the large debt.
“I just want to make sure we don’t hog tie either us or future governing bodies with things that cannot be paid for – by putting in something that we can’t afford,” Melton said.
Chris Morrow, mayor, said, “We’ve got enough debt capacity that’s rolling off, that, if we want to say we don’t want to pay for future growth … and use that money to pay the bond and interest on the justice center because we’ve got that obligation and don’t want taxes to go up for our citizens, then we can do that.”
Steve Shute, council president, agreed that budget prioritization and discretion could help avoid tax increases.
Laura Gourley added, “You’ve got 70 percent of your debts dropping off in the next ten years, so you’ll have choices.”
“You can always restructure debt,” said Gourley.
Melton said there should be another option on the ballot, for voters to choose whether to do the project all at once or in phases.
Shute noted rising construction costs and said that building in stages could end up costing five or six million more.
Staff and counsel didn’t seem to favor putting a multiple choice question on the ballot.

The topic gets tabled
In the end, with consensus on the tweaked language, Moore said he was good with the resolution.
Kristy Harrison, council member, made a motion to adopt Resolution No. 1967, seconded by Moore.
At that point, Ryan Denk, city attorney, halted the vote.
“This resolution, in section 3, calls for the election to be held during the primary. I think we’re going to be bringing the issue back to you at the next meeting with options as to mail ballot versus the primary,” said Denk.
Harrison then rescinded her original motion and made another, to table the item to the next meeting. The motion passed.
No action was taken – council will take up the discussion again at the next meeting when they will decide on mail ballot or primary election.