Topeka governing body mulls how to use more than $540,000 in excess funds

The city of Topeka’s governing body listens Tuesday evening as Mariangeles Murphy-Herd, of Topeka JUMP, asks council members to do more to address affordable housing concerns. (Tim Hrenchir/The Capital-Journal)

Topeka finance and administrative services director Nickie Lee asked the city’s governing body Tuesday evening to devote more than $540,000 in excess funding from this year to covering costs the city currently plans to meet next year involving police car acquisition and fire station renovation.

 

Several members of a faith-based organization called Topeka JUMP then implored that body to instead devote those funds to addressing what they described as this community’s affordable housing crisis.

“I would just ask you to look deep into your hearts as you consider this opportunity,” said Topeka JUMP member Lorna Boden.

Also on Tuesday evening, governing body members learned they have been invited to a Dec. 20 meeting concerned citizens plan to hold to discuss matters regarding the Sept. 28 shooting by Topeka police officers of Dominique White.

The governing body, which consists of the nine city council members and Mayor Larry Wolgast, is tentatively scheduled next week to consider a proposal that would designate how the city would spend $543,205 in anticipated general fund excess money from this year.

That measure would arrange for the city to use $222,125 of that to finish making lease payments this year that the city currently plans to make early in 2018 for Topeka police vehicles. The city could then use the money budgeted for that purpose in 2018 to pay cash next year to buy more police vehicles, Lee said.

The proposal on next week’s preliminary agenda would arrange for the city to use the remaining $321,080 to pay cash to carry out firehouse renovation work planned for 2018. Doing that this year instead would give the city better flexibility next year to address any other issues that may come up with such projects, Lee said.

About 20 people from Topeka JUMP, many wearing yellow T-shirts promoting that group, then stood in support as fellow members went to the lectern. They asked that a governing body member come forward and work with them to craft a proposal that body could consider to instead earmark the excess money to go to meet affordable housing needs.

“Here’s a chance to allocate excessive general fund dollars on housing rather than spend it on something that’s already in the budget for 2018,” said Dee Moore.

She suggested the governing body hasn’t demonstrated it cares about affordable housing.

“We’ve been patient, and now we are getting restless,” Moore said.

Governing body members also heard from six people who spoke critically of the city’s response to the Sept. 28 fatal shooting by two police officers of Dominique White near East Topeka’s Ripley Park.

One, Marty Hillard, invited governing body members to a special meeting he said those concerned about the situation will hold at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20, at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th.

Councilwoman Karen Hiller said earlier in Tuesday’s meeting that she was glad the city put out a statement regarding the situation Monday, and added that she appreciates the efforts of those who have expressed concern about the matter.

Councilwoman Michelle De La Isla said after hearing the six speakers that she was sorry to hear that some feel the city — which extended condolences to White’s family in Monday’s statement — bypassed family members when it sent that statement to the media instead of providing it to them first.

She said she planned to attend the Dec. 20 meeting. Councilmen Tony Emerson and Richard Harmon said they had conflicts that would prevent them from attending.

In other action, the governing body:

Heard city manager Brent Trout say he has heard 42 comments from people sharing thoughts about the city’s search for a police chief, including what traits and skills they hope to see from the person hired for the position. Trout had asked last week for public input on the topic.

Heard a presentation from the city’s utilities department about a proposal the governing body tentatively plans to consider next week that would raise city water, wastewater and stormwater utility rates.

Voted 9-0, with Harmon not yet being present, to accept an analysis from a consulting firm that crafted a downtown parking plan for the city and authorize city staff members to implement its recommendations. By the time Harmon arrived Tuesday evening, the governing body had voted on all the meeting’s action items.

Voted 8-0, with Mayor Larry Wolgast not having a vote, to approve the reappointment of Jim Parrish to the Downtown Business Improvement District Advisory Board for a term ending Jan. 2, 2020.

Voted 8-1, with Councilwoman Sandra Clear dissenting, to establish an effective date of Jan. 1, 2019, while reaffirming its Nov. 14 adoption of the redevelopment project plan for the Wheatfield Village Redevelopment District near S.W. 29th and Fairlawn Road.

Voted 9-0 to adopt specific amendments increasing expenditure levels in the city’s budget for this year by nearly $4.76 million. The increased expenses are to be covered by previously unbudgeted revenues the city has brought in.

Voted 9-0 to approve a Tennessee Town Neighborhood Plan targeted at encouraging cultural heritage improvements in that area of central Topeka, promoting the preservation of historic structures there and spelling out design guidelines to ensure new construction is compatible with the neighborhood.

Voted 9-0 to approve the 2018 service fee levy structure for the Capital City Downtown Business Improvement District.

Saw Wolgast recognize three organizations — Topeka Unified School District 501, the United Way of Greater Topeka and Harvesters-The Community Food Network — that he said have played a key role in making the Refuel Topeka program a success.

Took no action after hearing a presentation from Fire Chief Craig Duke, who suggested the city increase franchise fees for its ambulance service, which is something the governing body plans to consider doing next week.

Heard a presentation from public works director Jason Peek regarding the city’s snow and ice removal plan.

Heard Councilwoman Elaine Schwartz say she underwent surgery, which went well, four days ago. Schwartz, who has been coping with heart problems, also thanked those who have been praying for her.

Reporter Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

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