The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Commissioners meet with state lawmakers

  • Leavenworth city commissioners met with state lawmakers Saturday to discuss issues city officials feel are important as the 2013 legislative session approaches.
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  • Leavenworth city commissioners met with state lawmakers Saturday to discuss issues city officials feel are important as the 2013 legislative session approaches.
    And one of the issues officials spent a significant amount of time discussing was eminent domain.
    City commissioners and other city officials met with Steve Fitzgerald, who will be representing the Kansas Senate’s 5th District which includes Leavenworth and Lansing; Rep. Melanie Meier, who will be representing the Kansas House’s 41st District which covers much of Leavenworth; John Bradford, who will representing the House’s 40th District which is anchored in Lansing but includes a portion of Leavenworth; Rep. Connie O’Brien, whose 42nd House District includes western Leavenworth County; and Willie Dove, who will be representing the 38th House District which includes a portion of Leavenworth County.
    City Manager Scott Miller reviewed priority items from the city’s 2013 state legislative agenda. The document previously was approved by the city commissioners.
    Commissioners are asking for increased flexibility for using eminent domain for economic development purposes. State law doesn’t allow the use of eminent domain for that purpose. However, cities still can use eminent domain to acquire property for things such as road and sewer projects.
    Miller pointed to a hotel development as an example of why city officials need some form a eminent domain to help with economic development. He said the city had acquired a number of lots in the area of Fourth Street and Metropolitan Avenue for a planned hotel.
    But there was a property owner who was asking more than $100,000 for a piece of property that was appraised at less than $10,000. Miller said the city ended up purchasing the property because it was an integral part of the planned hotel development. He said it cost the city $60,000 plus legal fees.
    “There’s got to be better way to do this,” he said.
    The city manager said there are formulas out there that can be used. As an example, he pointed to a process the Federal Aviation Authority uses for airport expansion in which people are relocated to similar houses.
    Miller said city officials aren’t looking at being given blanket authority but rather something with benchmarks.
    “Have you looked at this from the property owner’s point of view?” Fitzgerald asked.
    Absent public use, the use of eminent domain would be taking property from somebody to give to someone else, he said.
    “On principle, how do you justify that?” he asked.
    Miller said the advantage to the city is that it increases the tax base which helps with providing essential services such as police, fire and snow removal.
    Commissioner Mark Preisinger said city officials don’t want to go in “willy-nilly” to take someone’s property.
    Page 2 of 2 - “In some cases, I think it does need to happen,” he said.
    Fitzgerald asked commissioners not to think he necessarily was taking one side of the issue. But he said lawmakers would face the same debate in Topeka.
    “This is just going to be tough,” he said.
    Preisinger said city officials are looking for something that would make it difficult to use eminent domain for economic development but not impossible.
    Bradford asked why a developer couldn’t pay the additional cost when a property owner is asking for more money.
    Miller said economic development projects often require financial incentives from the city to the developer.
    City officials and state lawmakers discussed other issues such as funding for a state comprehensive transportation plan, nutrient removal requirements for wastewater treatment and exemptions for sales and property taxes.
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