Shawnee council at odds over how to address tens of millions in stormwater repair needs

Shawnee Councilmember Eric Jenkins shared his concerns with his fellow councilmembers last week on the city’s impending stormwater repairs. File photo

The Shawnee council last week unanimously agreed they have a sense of urgency around the city’s extensive need for stormwater repairs. The city faces up to $140 million in pipe repairs over the next decade. But the council split on how it hopes to fund the repairs.

After picking apart a proposal for funding stormwater repairs from councilmembers Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling, both representing Ward 2, at the June 18 council committee meeting, the Shawnee council rejected parts of it that called for spending cuts of 3 percent across all city departments, and a halt on new spending out of the general fund on parks and recreation, until the city’s stormwater pipes were in “adequate” condition.

Shawnee’s stormwater infrastructure needs major repairs in the coming years. Photo credit city of Shawnee

However, the council agreed to adopt a resolution in the proposal that declares the city will prioritize stormwater repairs. The council also plans to task city staff with providing monthly status updates on the city’s pipelines — including the likelihood and impact of damaged pipes — to prioritize repairs.

After extensive discussion in council committee June 18, councilmembers voted 7-1 to recommend adopting the resolution. The council will consider adopting the resolution at a future meeting.

Before voting against his resolution, Jenkins shared his frustrations that the council had rejected most of the recommendations in his and Kemmling’s proposal. He also disagreed with the other councilmembers’ decision to amend the text of the resolution, which had originally listed stormwater repairs as “the” top priority but now lists it as “a” top priority.

“I feel like we’ve accomplished absolutely nothing,” Jenkins said.

Last night at the council meeting, discussions about the stormwater repairs continued between a councilmember and members of the public.

Shawnee resident Rod Houck was a member of the ‘vote no’ group against the community center initiative.

Shawnee resident Rod Houck, a member of the group who opposed the community center initiative, said his group wanted to raise awareness for “unmet needs” in the city. Members of the “vote no” group have previously cited the stormwater repairs as one of these needs.

Shawnee resident Tracy Thomas also cited concerns that the council had dismissed the recommendations laid out in Jenkins’ and Kemmling’s proposal.

Councilmember Stephanie Meyer noted that the council accepted part of the proposal by asking city staff to find ways to fill a gap of up to $6 million to fund repairs for pipelines in the worst condition. The council had also agreed to look into funding options for these projects by possibly digging into the city’s reserves or issuing bonds to cover projects. They all were opposed to tax increases to fund repairs.

“I think we had a good conversation last week; I appreciated Councilmember Jenkins putting his ideas forward, and I do not believe that the takeaways, that all of them were rejected,” Meyer said. “So that was absolutely what I was going to correct on the record.”

Jenkins did not provide further comment.

Ultimately, Jenkins said he hopes to make stormwater repairs “front and center” in the city’s budgetary priorities, and also look into cost savings for the city.

“Unfortunately these things just won’t wait; you can’t postpone them,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got to be able to react to it effectively and get something done within a reasonable period of time.”