Thursday, August 21, 2014

Goshen council rebuffs schools’ request for help with sidewalks

Posted on June 18, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Goshen Community Schools will have to look elsewhere for help in funding additional sidewalks after the city council voted down an additional appropriation Tuesday night, June 18.

A 4-3 vote along partisan lines decided that the council would not approve $62,500 to be moved from the Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) fund to assist in the construction of more sidewalks as part of the schools’ effort to enforce one-mile walk zones around schools.

The $62,500 figure would have been half of the construction costs for the roughly one mile of additional sidewalks in various areas throughout the community.

In order to provide more complete routes for students to walk in some areas, the school is looking at constructing sidewalks in the neighborhoods near Chamberlain, Model, Parkside and Prairie View elementary schools, as well as a short stretch south of Goshen Middle School.

Several members of the council asserted that the project would also assist the city by increasing neighborhood “walkability” and could also be reported as proof of the city’s ongoing effort to show good faith in complying with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

“These neighborhoods benefit from the sidewalks,” councilwoman Julia Gautsche added. “At some point, we’re going to build sidewalks, we’re going to build them out here.”

Mayor Allan Kauffman also said the project could even be seen as compensation for the city’s establishment of tax increment financing (TIF) districts, which he said do not directly hurt schools, but do hold indirect financial consequences.

In the end, however, the majority of the council could not justify applying the funds to the project.

“We’re running into tax cap issues just like the schools and they’re finding ways to save money,” Brett Weddell said. “It’s their cost-saving solution and yet they’re asking us to pay for it. If it’s their cost-saving plan, should they not be responsible for the expense to get started?”

Council president Jim McKee said he’d heard superintendent Diane Woodworth mention the possibility of using the schools’ rainy-day fund to fund the project and said if the schools have the money available, they should take care of the project.

“It seems to me like it’s raining,” McKee explained. “I think their return on the money that they would invest in sidewalks is pretty substantial, so I would have to say I’m all in favor of sidewalks. At this time I think they should pay for those from their own funds because of our own tax cap issues.”

Kauffman countered that the financial issues the city faces “pale in comparison” with what the schools are currently encountering.

Councilman Jeremy Stutsman added that he’d much rather see the schools dip into their rainy-day fund to cover the cost of the actual education rather than infrastructure.

Ed Ahlersmeyer noted that the city did not need the new sidewalks, even to comply with the ADA standards, and with offering the services of Goshen’s Engineering Department for planning and oversight, the city’s portion would realistically be far greater than the 50 percent assistance the schools requested.

A motion was made to amend the total from $62,500 to $50,000, but the vote on the amendment met the same fate as the ordinance itself, failing by a 4-3 vote.

McKee said he would have no problem with supplying the city’s engineering department to help draw up plans and see the project through, but said he could not support, at this time, the usage of the city’s money to help fund the project.