Presiding Commissioner for Cass County, Jeff Cox, presented the School Road improvement plan to the Raymore City Council during their work session on Monday, April 15. Much like his meeting with the Aldermen of Peculiar, Cox outlined particular construction details along with funding specifics.
If there was a clear point throughout the entire 90-minute session, it was that the revisions to School Road will begin regardless of the cooperation of the cities of Raymore and Peculiar. The desired final product, however, which is a three-phase, multi-year ordeal, will require additional funding before completion.
As Commissioner Cox concluded his opening statements, he said that one of the things he has always tried to do as a commissioner is to empathize with the cities. He acknowledged the sacrifice all parties will have to make concerning budgets while expressing his desire to make this plan “financially responsible” as well as “palatable to the people of Raymore and Peculiar.”
The Raymore Councilmembers had several questions for the commissioner.
Charlene Hubach had a concern with the financial estimates and what the plan would be if the money put in by the cities turned out to be short of what was needed. Cox stated that the county will handle any estimate discrepancies. If the city gives too little or too much, the county will not come back to the city asking for more or returning extra funds.
Sonja Abdelgawad told the Commissioner that the number one question presented to her was “Why should Raymore pay for roads outside of Raymore?” The budget plan, as it stands today, involves Raymore contributing over $500,000 for roadwork in Peculiar.
Cox’s response was quick and to the point: “If there was ever a time to do it, this is it.” He explained several times how School Road is a “major artery” for the students of Raymore-Peculiar High School, several of which undoubtedly commute directly from Raymore.
Later in the meeting, Abdelgawad also asked Cox if it had been considered to include Belton on the funding for the revisions. The Commissioner responded in the negative, but said none of the cities are islands and that they all need to work cooperatively to fit with the plan’s “holistic view.”
City Manager Eric Berlin weighed in on the conversation, not with questions, but with comments conveying his belief that the construction will not go as quickly as Commissioner Cox believes. The plan states that construction will begin this year and phase one could be finished by 2014. “I’m willing to wager construction won’t start until 2014,” Berlin said.
Councilman Derek Moorhead showed a concern about the city not receiving money back on the project coming in under budget. Moorhead said that oftentimes projections are over-budgeted and that if the city gives more money than is necessary, they should be allowed some of that revenue back. He then asked if it would be possible for a group review of the budget to which Cox responded unenthusiastically, expressing the setbacks to passing the plan if a budget review were to occur.
Councilman Ryan Wescoat asked City Manager Berlin if the bidding process which transpired for this plan was to the same standard as the City of Raymore’s bidding process. Wescoat feared that if the city funded a county project that was not properly bid, it would reflect poorly on the city. Berlin stated that this was not an issue.
Mayor Kerckhoff asked Commissioner Cox if there was any possibility of Peculiar being able to finish phase three of the project on their own. Cox explained that the city cannot, but the Commission is committed to making the project happen regardless of Raymore’s participation. Cox said if Raymore declines involvement, the County will have to “roll up their sleeves” and finish the work that was started.
With all of that said, the Commissioner repetitiously expressed the benefits Raymore would reap from this project. “I understand that nobody wants to go first,” he said in reference to voting. “But I believe in my heart of hearts that this benefits Raymore,” he continued.
The first reading of the plan before the Raymore City Council will take place Monday, April 22.