Benefit district receives first green light
The De Soto City Council agreed last Thursday to pursue a benefit district for a traffic signal at the south Lexington Avenue/Commerce Drive intersection.
The council also agreed to include De Soto USD 232 among those property owners assessed, a move that cost the creation of the district the unanimous support of the council.
The council's decision came after a public hearing on the formation of the benefit district. The city is to pay for 55 percent of the signal's projected $180,000 costs. Twenty-two landowners along Commerce Drive and 91st Street will pay the remainder. The council can't take action to create the benefit district until a 20-day protest has expired.
In a letter to the council, district planning director Jack Deyoe argued the school district shouldn't be included in the district because its mission was to educate the community's children while the city was responsible for infrastructure.
The district, Deyoe wrote, was an asset to the city's economic development efforts.
Also protesting the benefit district was Rehrig Pacific Co.'s Mike Riola, manager of Rehrig's De Soto plant.
Riola said the company agreed with the need for the traffic signal, but found the square-foot assessment basis unfair. Rehrig has a great deal of property, but its small labor force only accounts for about 20 vehicles on the road in an eight-hour shift, he said. That was far less than McDonalds or Meiner's Market, Riola said.
However, Gina Riekhof, representing the city's bond firm of Gilmore and Bell, advised staying with the square-foot assessment method. Kansas courts had frowned on attempts to base assessments on traffic counts, she said.
Furthermore, the bond attorney said courts have indicated current property uses shouldn't be considered in assessments.
That last factor weakened the argument of excluding the school district. Further complicating the case was Riekhof's statement that the district couldn't simply be written out of the benefit district. Should the council wish to forego the district's assessment, it would have to compensate the district for the assessment through some form of education grant, she said.
Councilwoman Mitra Templin said she didn't support the assessment on the district because De Soto residents would end up paying the tax anyway.
That wasn't the case, Mayor Dave Anderson said. With continuing boundary changes, more and more Shawnee and Lenexa students will be attending De Soto High School, he said. The traffic signal was a safety enhancement that would benefit those attending the school from all communities, he said.
Other council members indicated they were also ready to move on. The council had responded to a problem with a solution, and it was time to commit to the project, Councilman Ted Morse said.
With the three largest landowners -- Intervet Inc., Huhtamaki Americas and Olathe Medical Center -- as well as Kent Fry of KTen Commerce Park and a number of frontage businesses along Commerce Drive supporting the benefit, there appears little chance for a successful protest against the signal.
The council included funding for the light in the 2007 budget, so its placement would have to wait until January.