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Mayor defends spending school sales tax on street light PDF Print E-mail


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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories recapping Wednesday’s joint meeting between the Liberal City Commission and Seward County Commission. Today’s story deals with issues concerning the interlocal agreement between the City of Liberal and USD 480 and a traffic light at 15th and Western. Future stories will deal with the recent flood damage and the possibility of a new recreation center in Liberal.


An interlocal agreement between the City of Liberal and USD No. 480 has been the source of some controversy, as has a traffic light at the intersection of 15th and Western.

Liberal Mayor Joe Denoyer discussed both matters during a presentation Wednesday evening in a joint meeting between the Liberal City Commission and the Seward County Commission.

Denoyer began by stating the USD 480 Board of Education does not have the authority to collect a sales tax.

“That has to come through a governing body like the city,” he said.

Denoyer said before the interlocal agreement was signed, USD 480 officials had approached city leaders when construction of new schools was being considered.

“They asked if we could enact a sales tax,” he said. “At that time, there were only two other cities in the entire state that were collecting a sales tax for schools.”

Denoyer said the sales tax question first had to be approved by the city commission before it could go to a vote of the people.

“As a commission, we had to be on board with this sales tax prior it to it going to the vote of the commission,” he said.

Denoyer said all city commissioners felt this was a great concept and a need in the community. The board, therefore, voted unanimously to enter into a local agreement with the school district.

Denoyer added the agreement was later approved by the Kansas attorney general. Under the agreement, all issues of public concern caused by construction of the new schools would be the responsibility of USD 480.

“It is for this reason that the city has a responsibility to the property owners that they should not bear any financial burden because of the new schools,” he said. “We’ve always protected property owners’ interests throughout this entire process. Property owners really had no voice in the site selection of the new schools.”

At the time of the interlocal agreement, USD 480 did not own any of the property where the new schools are being constructed.

In August 2015, both the city and USD 480 received bids for new streets needed to built the schools. 

“USD 480 was given till Nov. 3, 2015, to agree with the bids so the contractor could start scheduling the street construction in 2016,” Denoyer said. “The approval by USD 480 did not come until late June of 2016. Therefore, the streets could not be put on their schedule until 2017. The contractor waited until school was out to begin construction.”

Denoyer said additional concerns were found with the location of existing utilities in, around and under these streets. He did praise the collaboration between the city and the school district, particularly the work of USD 480 Superintendent Renae Hickert.

Denoyer said as the community continues to dry out from last week’s flooding conditions, temporary access to new schools will be provided as the permanent streets are being constructed.

The mayor then addressed a comment made that board of education is at the city’s mercy.

“I just want to refute that right now,” he said. “We’ve been working well together, and I think we’re going to continue to work well together.”

Denoyer then briefly addressed the stop light at 15th and Western, saying the signal is within a mile and a half of Eisenhower Middle School.

“I believe, if I’m not mistaken, a mile and a half radius is how far out the students have to get to school on their own because the district does not bus within that mile and a half,” he said. “Eisenhower Middle School now holds three grades – sixth, seventh and eighth. West Middle School, at that time, just held seventh and eighth grade. The children that attend Eisenhower are not of driving age. They either have to be brought by their parents, or they have to walk. The students from the southeast, southwest and northwest of 15th and Western have to use that intersection if they’re walking to school.”

At the time the traffic lights were constructed, Denoyer said the city likewise required two alternative crossings at Calhoun and Carlton.

“It’s easy to understand that a traffic signal is required to keep the children safe at that 15th and Western intersection,” he said. “At the time this was discussed, USD 480 knew of the traffic light, was aware that it was going to be put in, so there were no surprises with the traffic signal. A four-way stop would not have kept the children as safe because as you have four lanes of traffic, as a child is beginning to cross, one lane may see this kid crossing, but the other lane may not. The traffic signal with the crossing lights was essential to keep the kids safe.”

Denoyer concluded his presentation by praising all of the work done with the cooperation of both the City of Liberal and the school district.

“I believe what the community has done, what USD 480 working with the city has done has been a tremendous asset to this community, not only in the education of the future of our children, but also we’ve seen an economic impact from the creation of five new schools, three of which will come online Friday of next week,” he said.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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