The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • City officials discuss wishes for upcoming session with state lawmakers

  • Lansing city officials are concerned about funding sources, infrastructure, unfunded mandates and city elections, they told Leavenworth County's state legislators Wednesday morning.
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  • Lansing city officials are concerned about funding sources, infrastructure, unfunded mandates and city elections, they told Leavenworth County's state legislators Wednesday morning.
    Lansing Mayor Billy Blackwell discussed the city's "wish list" with five of the legislators at a breakfast hosted by the city at its community center.
    Also present were five council members and a number of Lansing city staff members.
    Legislators attending were Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Fifth District; and House of Representatives members Melanie Meier, D-41st District; Connie O'Brien, R-42nd District; John Bradford, R-40th District; and Willie Dove, R-38th District.
    The countywide sales tax is important to the city of Lansing, Blackwell said, because the city depends on it heavily for infrastructure and other needs.
    He mentioned the potential to pool efforts to get it extended and alluded to the city of Leavenworth's 1-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot next month and how it will affect the countywide issue later.
    Several transportation projects are high on the city's list of priorities, Blackwell said, including improvements to East Eisenhower Road, the realignment of K-5, DeSoto Road and East McIntyre Road.
    Blackwell said the city is facing a number of financial burdens, including sewer pipe improvements that will satisfy Kansas Department of Health and Environment requirements, so the city needs to keep all its revenue sources.
    He also mentioned an issue echoed by several of the other governing body representatives in attendance — he urged state legislators not to pass "unfunded mandates" down to the city level.
    Some unfunded mandates have occurred throughout past years, and some have come from the federal level to the state, which has in turn looked to local municipalities to carry them out, he said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Because the city's streets are always in need of improvements, the mayor asked the Legislature not devote city and county highway funds for other purposes, and if possible, to return the so-called "demand transfers" back to local bodies.
    Another issue Lansing city officials addressed was a move to change the timing for city and school board elections.
    Blackwell said the city opposes bills that would put all elections on the November ballot, when county, state and national elections occur.
    Council members and other Lansing city officials also do not want to see city and school board elections become
    Legislators, who had a chance to talk after the governmental entities expressed their desires for the upcoming legislative session, addressed several of the city's concerns.
    Fitzgerald said he would work hard to help assure that the Kansas Department of Transportation considered the city's projects.
    O'Brien, who is from Tonganoxie, said she'd be working especially for changes to U.S. 24-40 to address traffic patterns that will be altered when Tonganoxie's new school is built.
    She also addressed elections. She's on the House Elections Committee.
    O'Brien said she expects a bill that would move all elections to November, but state, county and federal elections would remain on even years, and city and school board issues would be on odd years.
    She said she doesn't expect efforts to make the latter positions partisan to be successful.
    Blackwell also listed items as additional priorities for the city of Lansing: opposition to a move to eliminate the mortgage registration fee; no more annexation restrictions for cities; and accounting changes that could impact the city's ability to get bonds.
    Lansing Correctional Facility Warden Rex Pryor also mentioned several concerns for the prison system.
    Page 3 of 3 - One is what is known as the "shrinkage rate," which calls for certain numbers of staff positions to remain vacant to meet the budget.
    He'd also like to see money for programs restored, especially education.
    Pryor called prisoner education a public safety issue, noting that 98 percent of prisoners return home, and an education could help them become productive tax-paying citizens.
    He also noted mental health issues, since about 38 percent of the state's inmates are diagnosed with mental health problems.
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