With session scheduled to begin next Monday, local officials got a chance to bend the ear of their Topeka delegation during a legislative breakfast hosted by Lansing Wednesday.
Officials on the municipal and county side — members of the Lansing City Council and the Leavenworth County Commission in addition to elected representatives from Tonganoxie and Basehor — stressed the need to move forward on economic development-related projects and urged legislators to think carefully about measures that could shift the tax burden to the local level.
From an economic development standpoint, Lansing Mayor Billy Blackwell said the city’s main project remains the realignment of Kansas Highway 5 to Interstate 435. The idea for the project is nothing new, although lately Blackwell said the proposal has been gaining steam.
“We think the K-5 realignment is a good deal for the local community,” as well as the state, he said, by improving travel times and providing an opportunity for additional economic development.
However, Blackwell said Lansing is going to need help, specifically from the state representatives and senators, with getting there.
“I haven’t heard anyone who thinks it’s a bad idea,” he said. “The bottom line is we just have to come up with the money.”
Blackwell also mentioned improvements to DeSoto as project for which the city will need the support of legislators. Rep. Melanie Meier, who will take the seat for the 41st District Monday, said she could help with some of those projects.
“My new committee is transportation and public safety budget, so I can probably work with you on some of your issues,” she said.
Senator-elect Steve Fitzgerald, who will represent the 5th Senate District that includes most of Leavenworth County, said he agreed that the K-5 project was one worth pursuing. He also asked what issues the county and cities saw as the foremost concern. Economic development was primary, said incoming County Commissioner Dennis Bixby, and the key to nearby success stories like the Legends, many of the local officials argued, was investing in infrastructure.
“The road to all of those is roads,” Bixby said.
Blackwell and County Administrator Pat Hurley also urged caution to the local delegation on coming proposals to limit property tax increases and to exclude “trade fixtures” from real valuation assessments. That latter proposal, Hurley said, has the potential to cost the taxing entities in the county about $4 million in property tax revenue.
“The loss of revenue would either have to be made up in cuts — which would be substantial — or you’d have to raise the mill levy just to come back to that level of expenditure,” Hurley said, citing estimates that the city of Leavenworth would have to raise its tax levy by 14 mills in that situation.
Rep. Connie O’Brien, an incumbent representing the 42nd District comprised of the western portion of the county, said she knew that the fixture issue was one that was currently scheduled to be subject to a post-audit to determine its impact. She said she planned to keep the county and city officials in the loop.
Page 2 of 2 - “When we know, you’ll know,” O’Brien said.
In regard to another issue — a proposed statewide change in the timing of municipal elections from April to November — John Bradford, a Republican who will be sworn in as the new representative for the 40th District in the Kansas House, said he had testified against the measure last year.
“I have been told it’s coming back up, and again, it’s for the money-saving benefit of it,” he said. “But like I argued, if you can imagine the yards and how they’re going to look with double the yard signs.”
Hurley urged the legislators to keep them informed of ongoing developments in Topeka. Fitzgerald said he, too, wanted to hear from constituents.
“The more we hear, the better we are,” he said.