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Downtown flooding tops agenda

July 7th, 2011 11:08 pm by Gary B. Gray

The City Commission took some crucial steps Thursday to reduce flooding downtown by agreeing to borrow up to $6 million if and when it’s needed to finish one of three main phases in its long-term stormwater improvement plan.
Commissioners also cleared the way for the first phase by voting 4-1, with Commissioner Clayton Stout voting in opposition, to condemn 114 W. King St., where a U-Haul currently is doing business. The city had informed the owner that the property was an essential piece of the stormwater puzzle and that it would help to relocate the business, but Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said communication has come to a standstill.
“We communicated to the company that this area is a critical component of this phase of the flooding plan,” Pindzola told commissioners before the vote. “We indicated to the owner that we were more than happy to work with him on a relocation plan and acquisition.”
Pindzola said repeated letters and telephone calls have not been answered.
“Some people would think we are strong arming. Absolutely not,” he said.
Pindzola, a member of the city’s Stormwater Task Force, and architect Don Mauldin, Lamar Dunn & Associates executive vice president, have always considered the site to be crucial to successful flood mitigation.
“I’ve been studying this plan since 2008, and my conclusion is the only reasonable alternative is the acquisition of this land,” Mauldin said after being asked about other options. “The task force has looked at this and found the cost for an alternative would be astronomical.”
The area would temporarily be used to construct a large detention pond to catch floodwater from King Creek. Plans are to eventually create an open creek that will run through the middle of the area commonly known — in development terms — as the Event Commons, where greenspace and storefronts for businesses would also be created.
“If this City Commission is serious about flooding, this is the action we need to take,” said Vice Mayor Phil Carriger, who also is a task force member.
The 4-1 vote sets the condemnation process rolling. The property’s value was established at $820,000 based on an independent appraisal, but the owner still has the option of negotiating with the city on a price.
After years of consideration, negotiations, changes, reconfigurations and rejection, commissioners voted unanimously to purchase some of Lewis Wexler’s Free Service Tire property at a cost of about $615,000. City Manager Pete Peterson suggested the city pay for the Free Service properties on a cash basis from stormwater fee revenues and that the city should have that amount on hand by the end of the year.
Construction plans have been worked up for this area which will open up Brush Creek beginning at Sevier Street. This (once identified as Founders Park) land already is owned by the city and initial environmental studies and engineering plans have been developed. Peterson estimated that construction might begin at this site first, perhaps sometime in November.
In other business, commissioners discussed their various philosophies regarding funding special appropriations with taxpayer money.
On June 23, commissioners approved the city’s $217 million 2012 fiscal budget which included about $525,000 for special appropriations, which are funds that go to local nonprofit organizations. But with next year’s economy likely to worsen, several commissioners in particular are leaning toward ending funding.
Right now it appears Mayor Jeff Banyas, Commissioner Clayton Stout and Carriger may carry the day if that vote comes to the floor at the July 21 meeting. However, they may simply vote to continue the same level of funding and look at ending special appropriations beginning next fiscal year.
No action was taken Thursday, but commissioners will meet July 18 to try to settle the matter.
Jane Myron praised the work that Frontier Health has done for the community and asked that more specific information be provided to see which groups are eligible for funding.
Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin said philosophies on the commission differed and he hoped that there would not be a rush to a final decision. However, he did say the city had basic priorities, such as maintaining the structure of the community, schools and downtown economic development.
“I think we need a more formal approach to this,” said Carriger, who has made his opinion known that tax dollars should not be used to help finance these organizations. “I firmly believe next year’s budget will cause us to make some serious decisions. I think special appropriations need to be a part of the choices we have to make.”
Banyas said simply that, “Personally, I think I’m in agreement with Vice Mayor Carriger.”
When asked if he’d care to comment, Stout didn’t say a word and shook his head from side to side.

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