Connector, rec center debated at final forum

The future prospects for the crosstown connector and a potential new recreation center downtown were debated by Fort Dodge City Council candidates Tuesday evening during a public forum.

However, Councilman Andy Fritz, who’s seeking his second term as an at-large member of the governing body, said Tuesday’s vote should not be entirely about the crosstown connector which would make First Avenue South a two-way street for its entire length.

”This election is about the future of Fort Dodge,” he said to about 80 people gathered at a forum sponsored by the Well-Informed Webster People. Fritz supports the crosstown connector.

Jeffrey Halter, who is running for one of two at-large seats to be filled during the election, said he would probably support the use of tax money to assist with the creation of the new recreation center. That proposal thus far has been an entirely private venture.

One of the sharpest disagreements during the forum involved Fritz and Greg Nolting, a former councilman and former Webster County supervisor who is also seeking an at-large seat. They split over the use of special assessments to pay for road work by adding some of the cost to the tax bills of surrounding property owners.

Nolting opposes special assessments, which he called ”double taxation.”

”I don’t believe the special assessments should be away to cure our problems with dilapidated streets,” he said.

Fritz said he supports the use of special assessments. Then he said that the Webster County Board of Supervisors placed special assessments on the properties of farmers to help pay for drainage ditch repairs while Nolting was a member of the board.

Councilman Mark Taylor, who’s seeking a second term representing Ward 1, used his opening remarks to apologize for seemingly slighting the late Councilman Curt Olson by saying during a previous forum that the ward did not have a strong voice in the past.

”I would like to apologize to Curt Olson’s family and his friends,” Taylor said. ”I liked Curt. He was a proud Marine.”

”I didn’t say anyone’s name in my remark because I was not referring to any individual.”

He said he was trying to make the point that ”our voice, covered over the decades, wasn’t heard.”

Crosstown connector

The crosstown connector, which includes a downtown street realignment, became a debate topic when a member of the audience asked the candidates if they knew how much grant money had been awarded for it.

Halter, who was the first to answer the question, said he believed there was about $2.5 million in grant money available.

A few minutes later, Dr. Terry Moehnke, who is running against Taylor in Ward 1, displayed a chart showing the breakdown of funding for the downtown portion of the project. Referring to that document, he said there is $2,528,047 in grant money for the project. Most of that, he said, is from three state grants. He added that there is $589,000 for the project granted by the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District, a downtown area in which property owners pay an extra tax to finance improvements there.

Moehnke said the money will be lost if it isn’t spent.

”That money will be forfeited,” he said.

The candidate added that he believes it would be irresponsible for the City Council to forfeit the money.

Taylor, who opposes the downtown street realignment, said Moehnke’s figures were ”accurate to a point.” But he said some of the grant money could be used on other streets so that the city would not have to forfeit it. He added that portions of the crosstown connector are unfunded. For example, he said about $1.2 million is needed for a proposed roundabout intersection at First Avenue South and 12th Street.

Mayor Matt Bemrich, who’s unopposed for a second term in office, and Fritz said Moehnke’s figures were correct.

”He hit it perfectly on the head,” Bemrich said.

Fritz said other candidates in the race, including opponents of the crosstown connector, have said they want to make repairing existing streets a priority.

”Last I checked, we have a street on First Avenue South,” he said. ”It’s in really terrible shape.”

Nolting said he did not know how much grant money was awarded for the crosstown connector.

Recreation center

The proposed new recreation center would be near what is now the intersection of Second Avenue South and Eighth Street, an area that would be significantly reshaped by a completed crosstown connector. It would replace the existing Fort Dodge Area Recreation Center,

”We’re in dire need of a new rec center,” Halter said. ”I’m a big supporter of the new rec center.”

He said he would ”probably support public dollars for a rec center.”

Fritz said people involved in the recreation center project have never asked for tax support for it.

He added the crosstown connector could spur the rec center project just as the Fifth Avenue South Corridor of Commerce led to new business development there.

”We have seen the public investment pay off in private investment,” he said.

Nolting said he would try to determine if the city government would face any increased liability from the development of a new rec center.

Moehnke said improving streets is the purpose of the crosstown connector. He said the fact that the crosstown connector has stalled has in turn stalled the rec center plans.

”I couldn’t support any tax dollars for a rec center,” Taylor said.