Mayor Dave Harrison sets his cookies aside to read a proclamation. It lists, among other things, that, “Girl Scouts, the pre-minent organization for girls in the United States and around the world, has been an active part of the Liberal community … and through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, girls learn about business, goal-setting, the value of teamwork and money management, all of which helps them become leaders who are confident in themselves and their abilities, use their knowledge to effect change in their lives and the lives of those around them,” and declares February 2014 “Girl Scout Cookie Month” in Liberal. The city proclamation encourages all citizens to support the cookie sale, which lasts all month and wraps up March 9. L&T photo/Rachel Coleman
Education, housing call for investments
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Liberal City Commission members moved smoothly through the board’s agenda Tuesday night, adjourning in just an hour. Before the meeting ended, however, the commission had taken action on two factors that could impact Liberal’s growth for the next two decades: education needs and the housing crunch.
In unanimous votes, the commission approved a resolution authorizing a special election to offer citizens the option of raising retail sales taxes by one-half percent, or half a cent on the dollar.
City manager Mark Hall outlined the basics of the resolution, noting that, with 6.1 percent sales tax, 1.25 percent Seward County sales tax, and the 1 percent “Focus on the Future,” city sales tax already in place, the additional half percent would raise the local sales tax from 8.35 to 8.85 cents on the dollar. He also reminded the commission that the sales tax question is one of two that must pass for the school district’s proposed facility expansion project to be successful.
Commissioner Joe Denoyer returned to the election topic in his personal remarks at the end of the meeting.
“I just encourage all to get registered to vote and to come out on election day,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but it’s important for you to participate in the election. This question will affect us for 25 years to come, and influence the future of our community.”
The last step for the city and school board in preparing for the April 8 election will be the approval of an interlocal agreement that spells out the details of the half-cent tax — how it would be collected, disbursed and applied to the bond issue expenses.
“We have to enter into that that interlocal agreement so this resolution can take place, correct?” asked vice-mayor Janet Willimon.
Hall confirmed that is the case. A joint special meeting between the USD 480 board of education and the City of Liberal board of commissioners will be scheduled soon, he said.
The city commission voted in favor of all four housing questions presented at the meeting. Two of those items addressed the same property on the south end of the city, in the McCray Addition tract. A 15.9-acre area, previously zoned for commercial use, was reclassified as residential, to be used for single-family and two-family dwellings a developer plans to build.
Zoning inspector Kory Krause told the board that he and his staff had approved the recategorization of the land, and will now begin work on reviewing site plans and plats, “all of which will have to be out of the flood zone,” he noted, adding, “housing is needed, and the developers do have a plan.”
In a related item, city housing director Karen LaFreniere brought a proposal to define the newly rezoned land as part of the Rural Housing Incentive District .
“This (property) wasn’t included previously because it was commercial,” she said.
With the comment, “let’s keep moving forward,” Denoyer, along with all the commission, voted to add the tract to the city’s RHID listings.
The commission’s third housing-related action was to set a date for a public hearing for the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. That state-sponsored program allows cities and counties to offer property owners a tax rebate when significant improvements raise the assessed value of those properties. The requirements are detailed and rigorous, but LaFreniere described the program as a worthwhile tool for improvement.
“We want to bring areas up that are dilapidated, deteriorated or obsolete,” her report stated. By encouraging investment where it isn’t already occurring, the program aims to stabilize neighborhoods and property values, reverse outward migration and further deterioration of traditional neighborhoods and even reduce crime.
“It sounds good,” Willimon said. The commission voted 5-0 to approve the new program. Applications are already available, and interested parties may contact LaFreniere’s office with questions. To be eligible for the tax rebate, projects must be approved before owners begin.
Progress continued on the “Village at the Plaza” apartment complex project, with the first and only reading of the the plat, which required commission approval. Krause, whose department had already reviewed and accepted the plan, was pleased to learn from city clerk Debbie Giskie that no second reading was required.
“Everyone would like to get started on this,” he said. Initially, the Village development will construct 48 units, with the option of adding a fourth building — 16 more units — later.
Denoyer thanked city staff for the hard work in getting so many programs moving.
“You heard people say in the last election that we needed housing,” he said, “and you’re working hard to provide it.”
Harrison added his thanks to the investors, “who are making it happen.”