Baldwin City Council asked to develop trust in wake of annexation’s withdrawl
In the wake of the withdrawal of a voluntary annexation request, the Baldwin City Council was urged to develop trust in each other and staff and demonstrate a pro-business attitude.
Making those appeals at Monday’s council meeting were Mayor Marilyn Pearse, local businessman Mike Bosch, former councilman Shane Starkey and Ken Wagner, a business owner, former council member and past mayor.
The council listened to the appeals from the audience with little comment, but it was apparent from earlier discussion that Pearse and a number of council members remained at odds about whether all the pertinent information on the annexation was available at the right time.
What was shared by all was disappointment that Roger Johnson and Glenn Rockers withdrew a voluntary annexation request for a tract of land north of U.S. Highway 56, west of the business park and east of the residential Heritage Addition.
That withdrawal came after the council voted 3-2 to table the second reading of the annexation at its July 6 meeting with the intention of taking the matter up again Monday. Council members Steve Bauer and Dave Simmons led the move to table the annexation. The two said they learned subsequent to the measure’s first reading on June 16 that the sewer line the property owners were to install through the tract would be extended by the city to provide service to the business park. They insisted for the sake of transparency the public had the right to consider that information before a final vote on the annexation.
Councilwomen Christi Darnell and Kathy Gerstner shared the concern about the lack of sewer information presented at the first reading, but voted against tabling the annexation, fearing a delay could derail a beneficial annexation.
In remarks Monday, Mayor Marilyn Pearse said she was extremely disappointed that the annexation request was withdrawn and the actions that led to it. Johnson and Rockers made the decision to withdraw after Baldwin City residents verbally “accosted” them and family members with uninformed speculation about their plans for the property, she said. The mayor repeated that it wasn’t immediate plans to development the property that prompted Johnson and Rockers to request annexation, but the desire to install a sewer line to serve later development before the High Street/U.S. 56 intersection was realigned this summer. That installation would be more expensive if it was done after High Street was moved west with the realignment, she said.
It was her idea the city achieve a longtime goal by extending the line Johnson and Rockers installed to the business park so companies there could hook onto city sewer, Pearse said.
“That won’t happen now — not for $40,000, which would have been the city’s cost,” she said. “It would cost considerably more than that, now.”
Although Bauer and Simmons said they had hoped to approve the annexation at Monday’s meeting, they defended tabling the measure two weeks earlier. The second reading of ordinances didn’t come with automatic approvals, Simmons said. They were meant to give the council time to reconsider, especially if more information became available that needed to be communicated to the community, he said.
Bauer and Pearse remained at odds about whether the council had the information it needed to make a decision on the annexation. The mayor said it did, arguing the sewer line extension was a separate issue.
Bauer, in turn, said he wanted “full disclosure” rather than just information it was deemed he needed. In response to Pearse’s suggestion council members contact staff or her with questions on agenda items, Bauer said he couldn’t ask about “what he didn’t know.”
Council members should have known about the planned sewer extension, Pearse said, citing a weekly staff memo to council members in early June, which stated City Administrator Chris Lowe and former staffer Collin Bielser were talking to business park property owners about extending service to the park. Before again calling for greater trust and communication, she turned Bauer’s statement around, saying she “didn’t know what he didn’t know.”
Pearse ended council discussion with a last appeal for greater trust and better communication among council members and staff. Those were themes Wagner revisited in his remarks to the council.
“You don’t need to like each other, but you have to trust each other,” he said.
Wagner, who owns Heritage Tractor in the business park, called the failed annexation a “huge missed opportunity.” Not only did the city miss out on the chance to open more highway frontage property to residential and commercial development, it lost the opportunity to extend sewer service to the business park.
One consequence would be Heritage Tractor will not follow up on the consolidation of the administrative functions of nine John Deere dealerships at the company’s Baldwin City site. That would have created 20 new jobs in the community and required a $500,000 expansion of the company’s Baldwin City site, he said.
“We’re just not going to make an investment in the Baldwin City community,” Wagner said. “We can’t do that without sewer. We just can’t put more people in here with the septic system we have.”
With the expansion dead, Heritage Tractor would now relocate eight jobs to other communities, he said.
The proposed annexation appeared to rekindle the ugly side of the anti-Wal-Mart Express passion of a year earlier, Wagner said. In this case the passion prompted attacks on Johnson and Rockers, which were based on unfounded rumors and speculation, he said.
Those lingering sentiments and the failed annexation could deter growth in the community’s tax base, Wagner said.
“There’s a danger you are going to be perceived as an anti-business council,” he said. “I encourage this council not to be labeled a no-growth type of council.”
The council’s decision to table the annexation request for two weeks sent the wrong message to the business community, said Mike Bosch, CEO of Reflective Group and RG Fiber. Such a delay could be the death blow for a start-up business having to meet critical deadlines, He warned he and other business owners would be watching to see what kind of business environment the council fostered.
The council did approve a second reading of an annexation of property the Knights of Columbus owns on North Sixth Street. Pearse said in the interest of “full disclosure” the property was being annexed as part of the city’s purchase of the electrical service areas from KCP&L.