City council sets March 14 meeting to discuss options
by Aaron Brom
SUN PRESS Newspapers
The Corcoran City Council set a special meeting to tackle options for nearly $2 million of tax increment financing funds before the TIF district expires in December.
At the top of the council’s focus is staff’s recommendation to spend nearly $1 million of the funds to plan how the future of downtown and road realignment would look ahead of development, as the city is on the precipice of its first ever municipal sewer/water extensions.
City engineer Vince VanderTop said there is a TIF balance of $1.8 million, and that staff would like the council’s direction in allocating those funds, specifically citing a recommendation to plan for downtown and future road realignment.
“We feel this would be a good time, with the resources we have and a development standpoint, now is the time to take on this decision in terms of future alignment,” VanderTop said. “We want to look at options and revisit traffic projections, look at what properties and buildings need to be purchased, and right-of-way costs and environmental costs.”
He said an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) — documenting environmental impacts prior to development — is necessary to pursue state and federal dollars for transportation improvements. “We feel that would be a good thing to push toward,” he said.
City planner Kendra Lindahl said transportation alignments are critical for master planning of the downtown area, and that using TIF dollars for the process “can’t be overstated.”
The scope of work includes downtown transportation planning, the “East/West Transportation Corridor” for County Rds. 10 and 50, downtown design guidelines, downtown lift station locations, and downtown sewer exposure.
“It’s a good time to put stakes in the ground,” VanderTop said. “It influences other things like how we look at the Central Park, a plan for businesses and (St. Thomas) church. It’s a good time to tackle that issue. What do we envision for downtown?”
He said staff would like to prepare approvals and fill out the numbers. The proposal is modified for a planning level effort to identify the corridors and alignment but not complete the official mapping process that involves formal approvals by the county.
Questions for evaluation include what the required typical road sections would be based on projected traffic volumes, impacts to future pedestrian movement, impacts to local properties and downtown businesses, whether the intersection of County Rds. 10 and 116 would be different if it’s a city street rather than a county road intersection, and what the environmental impacts would be for different options.
Staff said identification of a preferred alignment would guide future planning and development.
The council weighed in on staff’s recommendations, with Mayor Ken Guenthner stating that creating projects and budgets “makes sense.” Councilor Tom Cossette agreed that planning needs to be done ahead of development, but was cautious to stamp his approval on road realignment before the council and public reaches consensus.
The mayor responded, “This study prompts all the research we need to have,” he said. “So all we’re doing is authorizing the budget to support. The final project number has to be justified.”
The mayor noted that roads in Corcoran were designed for farming decades ago, and that now is the opportunity to redesign the roads for modern, development-based use.
“I just don’t want high-capacity intersections laid out wrong,” Cossette cautioned.
Guenthner said planning for development is the first building block.
“Staff is simply trying to get feedback from the city council,” he said. “We need to tell staff these are the areas we do want you to study, then the next step is to pursue the study or a project itself. That’s for us to look at and say it’s too quick or it’s too slow.”
Planner Lindahl said staff recommends hiring a TIF consultant who would evaluate the city’s TIF budget and help find funding sources. She urged the council to take action now “before the calendar starts to fly.”
The council ultimately agreed to set a meeting Thursday, March 14, (the regular council meeting that night was canceled due to a joint meeting with the planning commission March 7) for the single topic of overall use of TIF funding. The council also approved a motion to retain the TIF consultant as a project advisor.