Area representatives received updates on “dark store theory” legislation as well as ongoing recovery and mitigation efforts following the Labor Day flood of Wildcat Creek at a joint governmental meeting Thursday.
Officials of the Pottawatomie and Riley Counties and the City of Manhattan held their monthly meeting in the Riley County Commission chambers Feb. 22.
Manhattan Long-Term Recovery Committee Case Manager Deb Abner gave an update on Labor Day flood recovery efforts by area charities. She highlighted a new partnership funded by the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation. They plan to work with ATA bus and Hy-Vee to help displaced flood victims living in hotels buy groceries. Once it kicks off, ATA bus will take folks to and from Hy-Vee every two weeks and give them $50 to $60 gift cards to help with their purchase.
Abner and Shepherd’s Crossing Director Beth Klug also were invited to Bergman Elementary’s parent-teacher conferences, where they visited with families and found 4 new households in need.
Additionally, the GMCF has set up the 2018 Flood Recovery Fund to help with those affected and/or displaced by the flood. To date, the GMCF has raised $86,659 and has distributed $25,000 to associated organizations — Shepherd’s Crossing and United Way, specifically — to folks with financial need. Also, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army have provided $13,000 each to assist flood victims. All money that is not distributed will remain in the fund to help in the event of future floods. Applications for flood assistance can be found at MCFKS.org.
Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi says the assistance they are providing folks is a silver-lining in the midst of the disaster.
Riley County Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez also commended the work of the many community organizations involved in the recovery.
Manhattan Assistant Community Development Director Chad Bunger also discussed the latest mitigation and management efforts. He says the city has recently demolished 3 flood-prone homes it bought-out with FEMA’s help and turned the area back to open space and plans to buy-out even more. Bunger also says they’ve recently been studying areas for new dry detention ponds.
“One study that’s near complete is on Fort Riley,” says Bunger “That would have a positive benefit on people being impacted in Keats and Manhattan.”
He says they are also looking at 10 to 20 sites where smaller detention basins could be built on private ag. land — with permission.
Additionally, the city will be performing three interviews with firms interested in the contract to create a 2D modeling software to better model floodwaters in the county on Friday, Feb. 22.
“Which should take about 6 months once contracts are done, so we’ll have a really great model that we can show how the flood occurs currently with a lot of different rainstorms as well as model in some solutions and see how those better protect residents and business owners,” Bunger says. “Wildcat Creek is a floody creek and we have to find ways to better protect ourselves.”
Bunger also said the Wildcat Creek Resiliency Committee had its first meeting this month to give public input on ways to improve public preparedness and flood mitigation efforts. Their next meeting is scheduled for March 7 where members will discuss goals and objectives for the committee.
‘Dark Store Theory’ update
It doesn’t appear any legislative action will take place this session on the use of the dark store theory in property appraisal appeals, according to Riley County Appraiser Greg McHenry.
Tax reps for the stores argue the value of their property should be appraised as though they were vacant — or dark — stores, without accounting for current commercial use. They often fight for 50 percent reductions in valuation, taking significant cuts of revenue away from governments. McHenry says it is not a theory accepted by any professional appraisal organization, yet the stores are winning 90 percent of the time.
McHenry says he’s heard from Manhattan Rep. Tom Phillips, who was part of the discussion leading toward the drafting of legislation prohibiting the tactic being used in appraisal appeals cases, that the climate in the legislature is right at this time. McHenry also says the Kansas Chamber of Commerce would fight the bill and have expressed support for an opposing bill that would require the theory to be used in appraisal appeals.
The backlog of appeals cases in Kansas goes back to 2016 in some counties, and should they lose those appeals they would have to pay return already paid tax revenue with interest on top of the money required to pay legal costs.
Target, Hy-Vee, Manhattan Marketplace and an apartment complex in Riley County are attempting to use the theory in appeals. In Pott County, Menards is trying again after failing at an earlier attempt as well as the owner of the development containing Academy Sports.
Pott County Commissioner Dee McKee says if nothing is done about these cases, the effects will be noticed through many services county and municipal governments provide.
“That will come from the schools, and it will come from many counties’ hospitals, it will come from roads we are locally doing,” McKee says.
Pott County Commissioner Pat Weixelman asked whether the theory’s use could eventually extend to industrial properties as well. McHenry replied that it’s likely it will eventually, adding “why not my house?”
Riley County Commissioner Rodriguez says they may be able to get Governor Kelly to look into the situation if they discuss the dollar amounts it affects.
“Gov. Kelly’s looking for money,” says Rodriguez “And if she wants money, she better do something about the dark stores.”
Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem says she doesn’t know what a “good climate” for the bill would be, but that if a solution isn’t found then the burden is shifted on to non-business owning residents.
“They don’t want to keep paying more and more property taxes and then we have a property tax lid,” says Reddi. “At some point something’s got to give, it’s just too much for us to handle right now.”