Transportation issues, ball fields lead council discussion in May
By Craig Howard
As the city of Liberty Lake ponders strategies to repair and maintain its roads, new avenues are emerging to address the lingering question of how to fund such improvements.
At the May 7 City Council meeting, City Administrator Katy Allen provided the governing board with an overview of one potential revenue source – the state Transportation Improvement Board. Since incorporating in 2001, the city has not drawn on TIB funds other than the pedestrian bridge project spanning Interstate 90.
Allen said TIB traditionally supports work that focuses on "preservation and sidewalks" and noted that "many other area cities, including Medical Lake, Deer Park, Cheney and Tekoa, are getting TIB dollars."
TIB coffers receive 3 cents from each portion of the statewide gas tax.
"The TIB has a goal of moving projects forward," Allen said. "You're only competing against other cities in your area of similar size for these funds, not big cities on the west side of the state."
Allen advised council that the city would need to craft a Transportation Improvement Plan in order to qualify for TIB benefits. She then proposed a goal of presenting such a document – comprised of a blend of the existing Capital Facilities Plan and the Street Maintenance Program introduced last month – for council review. The city needs to submit a plan by July 1 to qualify for the next round of TIB funds.
The topic of drawing upon the TIB followed another infrastructure discussion on May 7, this one involving stormwater drainage throughout the city. During the portion of the meeting set aside for citizen comments, Dennis Scott, a former employee of the Spokane County Public Works department, complimented the city on its proactive approach to road preservation, but counseled on a more assertive policy regarding the maintenance of stormwater swales.
Allen concurred, saying the city needs to place a priority on "getting water where it was designed to go." In some areas, grass has grown above the roadway, hindering optimum drainage when the rain falls. Allen said the city directs between $45,000 to $50,000 in a dedicated fund for stormwater maintenance and recently completed a project at the corner of Molter and Appleway.
"We have the staff and the dollars to make sure our stormwater swales are maintained," Allen said.
Allen added that some streets within city limits were constructed in the 1970s when stormwater swales were not required. While the city is responsibie for overseeing swales along arterial roads, an array of homeowner associations are accountable for the maintenance of such infrastructure on many residential streets. Allen said she is planning to talk to representatives of the city's homeowner associations about the issue.
"They've always been really good about addressing maintenance," she said.
While streets and stormwater took centerstage during the first council meeting in May, the topic of parking – specifically in the area around a busy bus stop – also took up a good share of the conversation.
Allen said she has been talking with Karl Otterstrom, planning director for the Spokane Transit Authority, about the expansion of parking facilities at the bustling Park and Ride at the corner of Mission Avenue and Meadowwood Lane. The site is at capacity now, Allen said, and STA has brought up the possibility of building earlier than anticipated. The city is also awaiting word on a state grant that would provide matching dollars for improvements in the area that has long been discussed as the site for a town square.
"It will probably be June before we know about that grant," Allen said.
Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford emphasized that the city should have an understanding of STA's commitment to the project, especially since the work is not included in the agency's current budget. There has also been discussion of STA constructing another facility on the north side of town off Mission, west of Harvard at some point in the future.
"We need to know where STA stands before the city moves forward," Langford said.
Ball Field options pitched at May 21 meeting
At the May 21 council meeting, topics like street maintenance, stormwater drainage and public parking shifted to the dugout, replaced by a discussion about the city's most talked about 20 acres.
Allen delivered her best pitch on the proposed Liberty Lake Ball Fields, presenting a trio of options for the build out of land purchased from the Central Valley School District last year. Each of the three scenarios would require more than the $500,000 set aside by council in the 2013 budget.
"When we allocated $500,000 in the budget there was still a question of what we were going to build," Allen said.
The city administrator proceeded to talk about the "Cadillac" version of the project – a sports megaplex featuring four baseball diamonds with infields of synthetic turf, a soccer field, playground area, fencing, 200 parking spaces and a pair of trails on the east side and west side of the site. Original estimates had the cost of the completed work coming in at around $4 million, though Allen said a revised rendition of the project would be closer to $2.5 million.
Allen and City Engineer Andrew Staples have been working with a committee throughout the year, hammering out a vision for the development. Representatives from the group have toured the Dwight Merkel Complex in north Spokane as well as the Whitworth University sports fields.
"We've learned that there is a big difference between playing in a park and playing in a sports complex," Allen said.
With the timeline narrowing for a start on the grounds this year, Allen recommended that council make a decision on a direction at its June 4 meeting. In concentrating on the eastern portion of the acreage, she said one option would be to build one baseball field with synthetic turf and add 88 parking places at a cost of $610,000. The same concept with a dirt infield would run $521,000.
"Option B" consists of two baseball diamonds and the same 88 parking stalls. The synthetic turf version of that plan has a price tag of $1.11 million while the soil rendition would set the city back $800,000.
Finally, "Option C" would involve grading and planting grass on the acreage, essentially creating one sprawling field similar to areas now seen in Pavillion Park and Rocky Hill Park. The nondescript transformation – which would also include an irrigation system and parking – has been priced at $735,000.
Council Member Keith Kopelson was one of several representatives on the governing board to express sticker shock over the proposed incarnations of the land.
"It would be nice to have this kind of ball field, but I'm not sure we want to dedicate this type of money toward it," Kopelson said. "In the beginning, we were talking about a lot less money."
Council Member Josh Beckett was one of several at the dais to voice support for Option B without the artificial infield, emphasizing that the proposed addition of four baseball diamonds in the grand scheme would create "a predominantly baseball structure." Beckett stressed that sports like soccer and lacrosse deserved equal consideration.
"To develop this into four baseball fields doesn't make sense," he said. "It needs to be more multi-use."
As for municipal funds that may be available to cover the extra cost of the ball fields beyond the $500,000, Finance Director R.J. Stevenson told council that the only realistic source would be the city's ending fund balance of $2.5 million – an idea that didn't sit well with Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford.
"We have other things going on besides this," Langford said. "I'm for it, but I don't support dipping into those funds."
Council Member Cris Kaminskas speculated that the city might be able to defray some of the costs through corporate sponsorships and advertising. There has also been talk of the Central Valley School District pitching in to cover some of the costs for the parking lot.
"I know price is going to be a consideration," said Allen. "I'm not asking for a vote tonight, but I'm hoping we can decide something by the June 4 council meeting. We can't go any further without that."
Allen said after the meeting that she would be working on a resolution that presented all three options in delineated form for a vote on June 4. Council also agreed to discuss approaches to the western half of the acreage at its upcoming council retreat.