City Council Rejects Buying STAR Bonds For Heartland Park

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- A serious setback for the City of Topeka's plans to buy the Heartland Park. On Tuesday, city council members voted 6 to 4 against purchasing the STAR bonds, designed to buy the racetrack and improve the area around it commercially.

Mayor Larry Wolgast, along with council members Michelle De La Isla, Karen Hiller and Brendan Jensen all voted in favor of the plan, believing the money generated could help cover the city's current $10.6 million STAR bond debt from 2005 and prevent an increase in property taxes for residents.

"No matter what, f the race track does not perform, we will generate enough money to pay for our current debt," said De La Isla.

Hiller even commented that if the current debt falls on the residents, it would equal to about $100 more dollars per year of property taxes on a $100,000 home for Topeka residents.

District 4 council representative Jonathan Schumm sided with his residents saying, "I am going to push the no button because that is what my constituents want and I do not want the feel as though they are not heard."

The NHRA has terminated it's contract with the city and will solely operate the NHRA Nationals event in Topeka May 22.

It's not clear what will happen with any other previously announced events.

Representatives of Shelby LLC, the group with whom the city was talking about managing the track, declined to comment after Tuesday night's vote.

Tuesday's vote was far different than December's 7-3 outcome that initially gave the green light to the city to move forward with its plans to use five million dollars in STAR bonds to purchase Heartland Park and improve the district commercially.

A petition to bring the issue to a public vote has held up progress but it was ruled invalid by the state appeals court in late March.

Gone are previous yes votes from District 2's T.J. Brown, District 4's Denise Everhart and District 8's Nathan Schmidt. Replaced by new council members and no votes Sandra Clear, Jonathan Schumm and Jeff Coen who have openly voiced their displeasure with the city's plans of purchasing track.

District 4's Sylvia Ortiz., an original yes, told Topeka City Manager Jim Colson at Tuesday's April 22 council meeting she could not vote to move forward unless she sees the details of the contract the city plans to have with prospective buyer Christopher Payne of Shelby LLC Development.

Last week, Colson hoped two town hall meetings could provide transparency and sway the public but they remain divided even though he touted the plan's estimated fifty million dollars a year in revenue to help curb the city's current STAR bond debt.