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Public comment about pool dominates Larned City Council meeting
Challenge is financial piece in pool funding puzzle
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Erin Atteberry, Larned, speaks to the Larned City Council Monday night about the importance of the city pool to members of the community, and an option for raising private funds and grants to pay for the pool project a citizens advisory committee has been tasked with researching for the past two years. The standing room only meeting included over 65 community members, many of which provided individual comments about the importance of the pool. - photo by Veronica Coons

Here’s a quick look at what happened at the Larned City Council meeting Monday night:

• A reception was held for members of the 2019 Junior City Council. Cake was served. 

• Approved a CMB license for the Larned Area Chamber of Commerce for Santa Fe Trail Days. The annual event will be held on Memorial Day weekend in Jordaan Park, and the Chamber will operate a beer garden May 24 and May 25 from 5 p.m. to midnight.

• Heard a statement by Erin Atteberry concerning the pool during public comments.

• Reopened discussion about amending a zoning ordinance concerning standards for owning certain animals and livestock within 100 feet of another city residence. The council approved a change based on a City of Salina ordinance.

• Approved a zoning amendment for massage services, supported by the Planning Commission. Massage services will be allowed as a conditional use under home occupations, and allowed to be offered in single-family residential districts. Only the homeowner or lessee will be allowed to operate the business; no employees will be allowed.

• Approved an amendment to zoning regulations related to signage, bringing the city into compliance with state statute regulating political signage usage.

• Discussed the marketing contract with Bajillion. With the one-year anniversary coming up in July, the City of Larned and Pawnee County have been in discussion with Bajillion concerning a multi-year marketing campaign, and council members considered next steps proposed by Bajillion Agency for furthering the collaborative plan. 

• Heard a presentation by Parks and Cemetery Director Josh Kraisinger.

LARNED — Monday night, it was standing room only at the Larned City Council Chamber. While only one person, Erin Atteberry, was listed on the agenda to speak for the public comments portion of the meeting, several community members took their turn at the podium after her initial words to express their feelings concerning the city pool. 

Atteberry is a member of the citizen advisory committee to explore options for the pool. She noted that she was there to address concerns that the pool may be sidelined as more pressing infrastructure issues, specifically the city’s aged and failing water lines, have become the council’s main focus. 

Since its formation, the committee has studied the issue, she said. They’ve sought input from the community about its needs and wants, consulted with companies specializing in municipal pool projects, and explored funding options with advisors from bond companies. Efforts by other communities of similar make-up have been considered as well. 

Not wanting to set aside the progress made so far, Atteberry recently visited with Christy Tustin, director of the Golden Belt Community Foundation to discuss how the committee could duplicate the successful efforts communities like Osborne and Smith Center have undertaken to get new pools built in recent years. Both communities funded their projects through a combination of private donations and grants.

The group could set up a fund with the GBCF, without having to create their own 501 C-3 nonprofit corporation, she said. The donations would then flow through the foundation which would grant the money to the City of Larned to be used for that specific purpose. 

Tornado warning 

After about an hour of public comments, many in attendance cleared the room when Larned Chief of Police Charles Orth informed city manager and the rest of the gathering that Pawnee County was under a tornado watch, indicating a tornado had been sighted, Reports indicated that activity was south and west of Larned at that time.

“We want to give you an opportunity to decide what is best for you,” he said, urging those leaving to take precautions as they traveled. Those staying were assured the city offices have a basement.   

Many remained, and a few more public comments were heard. One speaker noted that the middle school students raised $7,700 for the pool. Another, Charles Lacobee, spoke from the perspective of a pool maintenance professional. Others from within the city and throughout the county spoke about their memories of summers at the pool and their hope the pool will continue to be around for their children and grandchildren. 

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Larned Mayor William Nusser responds to the several comments by community members, pointing out the challenges of funding a needed infrastructure project against a popular pool project, and how the council is seeking a balance. - photo by Veronica Coons
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Mayor William Nusser spoke for the council when he said they were heartened by the passion shown by the community for the pool, and that seeking alternative funding for a pool project was a positive development the council would like to see harnessed. 

He explained the challenges of funding the needed infrastructure improvements and the swimming pool. He noted that the focus of the existing council in recent years has been to do the work necessary to ensure that, going forward, the city’s infrastructure is once again sound. This, he said, has been made more difficult by recent laws enacted during the Brownback administration limiting the city’s ability to raise taxes to pay for capital improvements. 

“We have to consider everyone,” he said, noting that many in the community are on fixed incomes, and can’t easily absorb property or sales tax hikes or utility revenue increases. He also questioned the fairness in raising a multi-million dollar bond issue, saddling the city’s current residents with the entire burden of years of deferred maintenance. 

“I think we are on the same page, but we have to figure out how we do the financial piece, and if everyone is on board for that additional cost. We have to be cognitive of that.“

He felt more public input sessions may be needed to determine what the best course is and determine an amount needed. 

“Larned has always stepped up to the plate when need be,” he said. “Hopefully that will be the case here, and I’m very optimistic about our future.” 

Atteberry said the committee knows they will need roughly $800,000 to $1 million to update the existing pool, and likely more for a new pool. She asked for the council’s permission to procede with fundraising efforts, as well as the assurance that a pool reserve fund would be created. She also asked the council to consider a good faith gesture, building into the 2020 budget funds to replace the existing pool’s filtration system. An estimated cost of $35,000 was mentioned. 

“This would not be a wasted effort, as the system could be used three to five years in the future, regardless of whether the existing pool is renovated or an entirely new pool is built,” she said.

Council members seemed receptive, but Nusser noted that procedurally, since the topic came up under public comment, it would need to become an agenda item to be considered at a future meeting. 

During the discussion, council member Kim Barnes invited those attending and commenting to attend the upcoming budget hearings to learn more about how the city’s budget is created. He noted that there was no public attendance or input during the 2019 process. 

Atteberry asked when budget sessions would be held. Nusser explained how citizens can receive emails from the city anytime the council meets.  

“We cannot meet without anyone knowing, acording to the Kansas Open Meetings Act,” he said. “You sign up online, you get the agenda, you get notified everytime. Everyone of our agendas, the budgets, are all online at the city website. Its a great way to stay informed.” 

The June meeting is when the council sets the calendar for the budget process, Barnes said. That meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 3, in the council chambers at the city offices.