Taking over maintenance responsibilities for part of a former federal highway in exchange for one-time state funding for some local projects may produce a welcome short-term windfall for the city, but such creative moves fall short as a long-term budgeting strategy.
City Manager David Corliss is working on a deal in which the city permanently would take over maintenance of Sixth Street from Iowa Street to the South Lawrence Trafficway. In return, the state would commit $3.5 million in one-time funding for a number of city projects, including improvements to Sixth Street and the 23rd and Iowa intersection, as well as reducing the city’s share of some other projects like the new SLT interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and new traffic signals at a couple of locations on west Sixth Street. The city also expects to use about $400,000 of the payment to expand its ring of fiber optic cable around the city.
The U.S. Highway 40 designation would be removed from Sixth Street and moved to another route, and the city would be responsible for maintaining West Sixth Street, at an estimated initial cost of about $40,000 per year.
Corliss appears to have given careful consideration to this idea and come up with a plan that probably is a good immediate deal for the city. Although Lawrence will no longer get state funds to maintain that section of Sixth Street, Corliss expects no reduction in overall state funding for the city street projects. As they should be, all of the targeted expenditures from the one-time windfall are one-time expenses, so the city won’t be looking to replace that money from other sources in subsequent years.
Even though this plan seems acceptable, the city shouldn’t approve such deals lightly. The city is accepting maintenance responsibilities for the street for an unlimited time in exchange for one finite payment. It sounds like a good deal, but it’s hard to know whether it still will look like a good deal 50 or more years from now.
Commissioner Terry Riordan somewhat giddily likened the deal to the feeling you have when “you have found $5 in the pocket of jeans that you haven’t worn for six months.”
This deal solves some budget problems this year, but city officials can’t count on finding money in some other pocket in years to come.