A pedestrian bridge will soon span Elm Creek along South Washington Avenue, providing a direct connection from Iola proper to the city’s newly developed trails complex south of town.
A split Iola City Council was deadlocked at 4-4 before Mayor Joel Wicoff cast his vote in favor.
“By golly, I’m going to vote for the bridge,” Wicoff said. “Let’s get ’er done.”
With that, the city formally approved a contract for B&B Bridge Company, out of St. Paul, to install the bridge at a cost of $345,612, $4,000 less than the engineer’s estimates, and $87,000 lower than the next-lowest bid.
AT ISSUE was whether the city would be willing to chip in about $76,000 to the project.
The rest of the funding is paid for through grants secured by Thrive Allen County, with more grant funding potentially coming from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Thrive worked on the city’s behalf over the past two years to secure the grants, and thought there was enough in the bank by this spring, because the original engineer’s estimate was about $250,000 for the bridge. However, the first estimate did not include installation costs, thus tacking on about $100,000 to the price tag.
“I’m for the bridge as much as anybody, but I don’t like the idea of us coming up with $75,000,” Councilwoman Beverly Franklin said. “With our sales taxes down, I’d like to wait to see if we get any more grants.”
Councilman Aaron Franklin agreed.
“As a citizen of Iola, I support this bridge 100 percent,” he said. “I’d be willing to commit my own money to this.”
But his support waned considerably when talking “as a steward of taxpayers’ money. I’m never going to support a new budget line item of $80,000 that we didn’t account for in the previous year’s budget.
“I don’t think a city can be healthy long term when these new projects come up, and we just commit to them,” he said. “We have swimming pool maintenance, bleachers we couldn’t repair, sidewalks deteriorating. There are a lot of items we should prioritize over this bridge from the city’s standpoint.”
The Franklins cast two of the dissenting votes. They were joined by Michael Middleton and Bob Shaughnessy.
VOTING IN favor were Donald Becker, Nancy Ford, Jon Wells and Sandy Zornes.
Ford said she favored seeing the city proceed because of the money already secured. Backing out now, she contended, could harm the city’s ability to receive grants in the future.
She also noted the potential for more funds coming in from KDWP&T, which already is providing $197,000 to the city.
Council members voted 6-1 previously — Aaron Franklin opposed and Shaughnessy absent — to accept the KDWP&T grant.
Accepting that grant in July meant a soft pledge from the city to provide up to $80,000 from its capital projects fund to complete the project, with the caveat the city would reconsider the matter if bids came in significantly higher than the engineer’s second projection.
“We all agreed if it didn’t go over $80,000 (from the city) we’d go for it,” Ford noted.
However, Beverly Franklin and Middleton reversed course Monday and cast dissenting votes with Aaron Franklin and Shaughnessy, creating the tie vote.
“I’m worried about where (the funding) is going to come from,” Middleton said.