Citing the importance of forming relationships with federal elected officials and their staffs, the Great Bend City Council Monday night approved sending a contingency of governing body members to a lobbying meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We lobby on behalf of the needs for our city and our area,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said. “It is my belief that this is beneficial.”
The City of Great Bend is part of a contingency of cities/counties and economic development organizations in western Kansas who make the annual trip to visit with legislative staff and push for Federal assistance for projects here, Francis said. Traditionally both the city and chamber/economic development groups, from all cities/counties involved, send representatives, and this year’s trip is March 23-25.
After some discussion and objections, a motion to send no more than three council members, Francis and Mayor Joe Andrasek was approved. Objecting was Councilman Brock McPherson, but an initial motion from him not to attend the meeting died for a lack of second.
The estimated is $1,500 per person, including airfares, meals, lodging and other expenses. However, Francis said it could be lower than that.
“I think it is highly important for us to continue to participate,” Francis said, noting the city did not participate last year. “It is a long-term investment that will help us to strengthen our legislative connections, and promote the continuation of Federal funding for our local and regional projects.”
Francis mentioned examples of federally funded projects in Great Bend. These include the Flood Control Project, the Raptor Center, and street and airport improvements.
And, he said, “there are some issues for which we need to be actively engaging legislators.”
Councilwoman Jolene Biggs agreed, adding the city has received a lot of federal money over the years. “A lot of it goes back to relationships. I think it is important to have a contingency go.”
Councilman Dana Dawson initially voiced concerns about such a venture. He had heard reports of a party atmosphere at the last meeting attended by Great Bend delegates, as well as noting Congressman Roger Marshall is from Great Bend and is readily available.
But, he ultimately backed Council President Cory Urban’s motion to send no more than three council members along with Francis and Andrasek. He just asked that a full, detailed report be presented afterwards.
McPherson said he has been to three such meetings as an attorney. “I turned down more because they are worthless. I think spending any money to go to this party for any council members is worthless.”
He didn’t object to Francis going.
However, supporters said it was about more than meeting congressmen and senators. The chance to meet with their staffs is also important to keep Great Bend on their radars, as is networking with officials from other cities.
The final vote was 6-2. Urban, Biggs, Dawson, Jessica Milsap and Andrew Erb voted for it, and McPherson and Dan Heath voted against it.
It was McPherson at the Jan. 21 meeting who asked the trip be discussed this week.
A look at the issues
Francis gave the following list of issues where federal dollars are important to Great Bend:
Community Development Block Grants
The president has proposed cutting funding for Community Development Block Grants, Community Service Block Grants and HOME Grants. “These programs are essential components of cities’ strategies to fund critical community services and infrastructure.”
• Streets and Highways: Federal monies come to cities for street and highway maintenance. The Federal Fund Exchange program exchanges federal monies for state monies at 90 cents on the dollar. This allows us to use the money on projects and not have to comply with the costly standards required for Federal projects, such as the Davis/Bacon Wage Act. This saves us significant money. Last year we collected $14 7,000 ($163,333 Federal) from this program.
• Airport: The FAA awarded us $10.6 million for the current airport improvement project.
• Rail: Continued funding for Amtrak is important for Southwest Kansas, but rail funding could benefit the Transload Facility as well.
• Additionally, the city should be lobbying for continued funding for the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation). We should be exploring BUILD (Formerly TIGER) grants which are highly competitive and will be important to have legislative clout supporting any applications.
• Municipal Bonds – the city need to lobby in support of the continued tax-exempt status for municipal bonds. Otherwise, the cost of large city projects could increase.
• Immigration – immigration will continue to be a key issue for our region.
Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Monday night:
• Approved a proposed trip for city officials to Washington, D.C., for the Western Kansas Congressional Delegation on March 23-25. Councilman Brock McPherson wanted to add to the
agenda for discussion as he did not believe it was necessary.
• Approved changing the date for the next council meeting to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, instead of Monday, Feb. 18, since that falls on Presidents Day, a holiday observed by the city.
• Approved the purchase of a Styker Cot and Power Load System for from Stryker Medical for $39,843. This is a power cot and lift system that will be used in a Great Bend Fire Department ambulance. Three of the four ambulances are already equipped with the system.
• Approved a fourth change order for the waterline replacement project not to exceed $114,206.66.
The current remaining budget available for additional waterline improvements total $516,468.89. There were some emergency repairs at 24th and Washington and Third and Hubbard that totaled $72,335.00, said Josh Golka with the city’s on-call engineering firm Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita. Staff identified additional work at 24th and Adams and 18th and Baker that totaled $27,711.04. Staff also identified some modifications that totaled $14,160.62.
• Approved township fire contracts with the four townships (Liberty Township $17,969, South Bend Township $22,718, Buffalo Township $27,872 and Great Bend Township $60,147) that the city provides fire protection for. This is the fourth year of a five year contract. The contracts will be renegotiated next year for another five-year term.
• Approved prohibiting parking along the new stretch of Eighth Street between Grant and McKinley. It was noted that the speed limit there is 30 miles per hour and signs will likely be posted.
• Approved an abatement at 1600 Baker, accumulation of trash/refuse, owned by Larry Sloan.
• Heard an update of city activities from City Administrator Kendal Francis. He focused on joint efforts with USD 428 to improve safety around Great Bend Middle School, ongoing fire hydrant and problems and pending projects, such as the redoing of the 10th and Grant intersection, work that will likely start in March.
• Heard an economic development report from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters. She focused on programs she’s attended on industrial hemp production and the Great Bend Better than Great visioning effort.