Archive for Thursday, May 8, 2008

Legislature passes measure to merge local fire services

May 8, 2008

As of Tuesday afternoon, De Soto was 2-for-3 this legislative session with the fate of the third local initiative intertwined with the session's thorniest issue.

Already signed into law after being approved by the Legislature was a bill allowing Johnson County and the city of De Soto to establish a riverfront authority to guide the recreational development along the Kansas River near De Soto.

And last week, the Legislature approved a measure the city of De Soto, Johnson County and Johnson County Fire District No. 3 requested that will allow the city fire department and the fire district to merge into a new entity.

Still on the legislative plate in the waning hours of the session is an economic development incentive package, which while open to all companies, would make available a $7 million package of incentives to Huhtamaki Americas, Sen. Julia Lynn said Tuesday afternoon. That package would make De Soto competitive with other states vying for an expansion the company is considering, Lynn said.

The incentives were tied to another attempt in the Kansas Senate to authorize construction of two coal plants in western Kansas. Two prior legislative measures with the same goal failed when supporters couldn't find enough votes to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' vetoes.

Lynn has twice attempted to provide economic incentives to Huhtamaki this session. First a measure she backed that would have allowed companies like Huhtamaki to cash in tax credits met a chilly reception in a Senate committee. She then argued on the Senate floor that a measure meant to benefit Cessna in Wichita include the diversion of 2 percent of corporate taxes to an economic development investment fund. Interest from the fund would be made available for companies looking to build or expand in Kansas.

That attempt too failed because a deal had already been struck to get Cessna $33 million in bonds it needed to add a new product line, Lynn said. The agreement was an example of how incentives are doled out in the state in lieu of guiding economic development policy, she said.

"Right now, we don't have an economic policy," she said. "We have companies that come to us saying, 'We're going to move across the street. What can you do for us?'

"That's cherry picking, not a policy like the impact bill. We need a ready pool of cash when a company comes to us that is open to everyone."

Although the fate of the economic development package remains uncertain, Lynn is happy with the success of the Riverfront Authority Bill and fire service merger bill.

"The riverfront is an economic development diamond in the rough," she said. "This is something that can bring in private business and provides the structure of how it is developed."

The fire service merger will allow taxpayers in the city and fire district to save by spreading the cost of capital improvements and efficiencies, Lynn said.

With the passage of the fire service merger and riverfront legislation, the De Soto City Council now has the appointment of board and authority members on its agenda.

De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said he sent e-mails Monday to Mayor Dave Anderson, Fire District No. 3 Board President Kent Dvorak and others informing them of the bill's passage and outlining what had to happen if the merger was to be completed by Jan. 1, 2009.

That goal would require appointment of a board, development of a budget by July 31 and the De Soto City Council and Johnson County Commission's approval of an agreement establishing the combined fire service. In addition, the new board would have to adopt policies and work through personnel issues before the end of the year.

Guilfoyle said he didn't know if that was possible, but he would advocate the board be appointed, the agreement ratified and a joint budget completed so that everything would be in place for a Jan. 1, 2010, merger.

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