Merriam will not take action on petitions regarding new community center process

Leah Wankum - March 15, 2019 9:00 am

The city of Merriam has determined that it will take no action regarding three petitions it received earlier this year from Merriam residents about the city’s process for building the new community center.

The petitions contained a list of requests from a group of Merriam residents regarding design of the new aquatics center, the sale of land in Vavra Park and how money is spent from the city’s I-35 tax increment financing (TIF) district fund. The group who submitted the petitions — the self-named Merriam Concerned Citizens — is made up of Merriam residents who submitted the petitions in January, citing concerns with the new community center process.

City Administrator Chris Engel said that, per state statute, the city is not required to take action on any of the petitions as submitted. Two of the three petitions are “administrative in nature” and are not enforceable under state statute, because only legislative ordinances are subject to the petition process, he added.

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A rendering of the courtyard entrance to the new Merriam Community Center.

“The city still maintains that the nature of these ordinances are administrative, and because they’re administrative, the city’s not compelled to adhere to them,” Engel said, adding that legislative ordinances create law, whereas administrative ordinances tell city staff how to adhere to existing law.

The residents involved in the petition process did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

One of the petitions requested the city build an outdoor aquatics facility that is the same size as the old Merriam Aquatics Center in Vavra Park; this petition follows some residents’ concerns that the new aquatics facility does not meet the expectations they had when they voted to approve the project last year. Another petition requests a public vote before the city spends more than $1 million in TIF funds (the city has currently budgeted $6.6 million in TIF funds to pay for construction of a parking structure and associated site work).

The Merriam community center design approved by the council Sept. 24.

The third petition also requested that the city first allow Merriam residents to vote before allowing Johnson County Library to rebuild the Antioch Library on the new community center site. Engel said the transfer of park land is permissible under a different state statute.

Engel listed other hurdles the petitions would have faced had they been allowable under state law. The Johnson County Election Office could not verify the required amount of signatures on any of the three petitions.

Additionally, residents submitted the petitions in January, but one of the petitions had requested the city keep the old Merriam Aquatics Center in Vavra Park; the city had demolished the old aquatics center in October.

Engel said one of the petitions had additional language and requests that were not listed when the residents had submitted them to the Johnson County Election Office — or approved by the election office’s legal department.

Assistant City Administrator Meredith Hauck said the new $36.6 million community center (which includes the $6.6 million in TIF for construction of the parking structure) continues to be on schedule and on budget.

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