A utility connection fee waiver for a new Pottawatomie County emergency services building was narrowly approved at Tuesday’s Manhattan City Commission meeting.

Pottawatomie County constructed a new EMS and Sheriff Office substation on Green Valley Road to serve the Blue Township area and the east side of Manhattan located in Pottawatomie County. The waiver — amounting to more than $11,000 — was requested by Pott. County Public Works Director, Peter Clark.

The City of Manhattan has a history of approving waivers for area governments and community organizations. In December, the commission waived more than $90,000 in fees for a Manhattan Area Housing Partnership low income senior housing project in Lee Mill Village. MAHP acquired the land from the city, which it acquired after a prior development struggled to get off the ground — leaving Manhattan covering its special assessment taxes. $300,000 in fees for USD 383 bond projects were waived in 2019 as well.

Mayor Pro Tempore Wynn Butler reinforced his previous opposition, advocating that the city no longer approve waivers with tens of millions of dollars of backlogged capital improvement projects and annually rising service rates.

“If there’s a cost for hooking up the water, we need to charge it,” says Butler. “And that needs to go into the enterprise fund so it can be re-invested into this backlog of CIP projects.”

Commissioner Linda Morse supported the waiver, saying its important to grow Manhattan’s relationship with Pott. County and support development in the area. Though she proposed developing a clear policy on when and if the city will offer such waivers in the future.

“It seems to me the requests are coming faster than the occasional that we’ve seen in the past,” says Morse.

Mayor Usha Reddi agreed, saying they need to look into what similar policies exist in other communities they can use as a starting point for their own.

“Let’s have some kind of policy or some kind of form that we can look at, what makes somebody eligible for us to waive fees and what might not,” says Reddi. “Because ultimately it’s not free, our taxpayers are picking up that tab, so we want to make sure that we’re not putting it all onto just our taxpayers.”

Butler further advocated that the policy be halt waivers altogether, saying it contributes to rising service rates.

“It’s not because of the cost of services, it’s because we keep diverting the money,” says Butler. “And we all talk a good show about we’re going to be [fiscally]responsible and worry about the budget and reduce water rates, but it’s all talk. When it comes down to the vote we give away the money.”

Utility rates are in the midst of a multi-year adjustment to ensure the funds are sufficient to cover costs of operation and necessary improvements in coming years — as well as to ensure the fund doesn’t dip negative if a disaster damages operations. The adjustment was recommended following a 2015 cost of service study.

The waiver passed 3 to 2, with Butler and Commissioner Aaron Estabrook opposing.

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