City, County Commissioner Spar Over Potholes

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Topeka (WIBW) - A Shawnee County Commissioner called out Topeka city officials Monday over how the city is addressing pothole problems.

Vic Miller wants the county to opt out of a state law requiring it give more than $2 million in motor fuels tax money to the city. Miller argues the city is getting more than it needs from a half-cent sales tax voters approved for street maintenance. He says the county could use the money to hold down property taxes.

But Mayor Bill Bunten and Councilman Jeff Preisner told Miller losing the motor fuels money would mean slower snow removal and fewer potholes filled.

They disputed Miller's arguments that the sales tax money was intended for potholes. Bunten explained that the motor fuels tax money is used for a short-term fix to potholes and the reason the city is currently behind is because there aren't enough crews to keep up. He said the sales tax money is used for a long-term, major overhaul for the streets - not just filling the holes, but doing a permanent fix to the street as a whole. Bunten says such work is going on right now on 6th and 10th streets.

Preisner said the ballot question voters approved never used the word pothole, and he said the City Council never promoted the question. He says that was left to a group of business leaders.

Miller responded that it didn't matter who did the promoting, that voters clearly believed if the sales tax was approved, the pothole problem would be addressed. Miller says city officials could decide to use the sales tax money for potholes, they choose not to.

Even with the money reserved for a major overhaul, Miller questioned the costs. He says a road analysis commissioned by the city found it would cost $50-60 million to repair the streets. Now, Miller says, the city has budgeted $150 million in projects over the next 10 years. Miller says, even if the county takes away the $20 million the city would have received in motor fuels tax money over that time, the city still has much more than the amount its study says it would cost.

Preisner says he would like more time to gather information on costs and projects, which Miller said he would appreciate.

Miller says he wants commissioners to discuss the issue as they form their 2011 budget.

Opting out of the ordinance would require either a unanimous vote of the commission or commissioners could decide to put it to a public vote.

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