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10-25-05 Celina officials answer criticism as financing continues for walkway

By Tim Cox

  City officials addressed a couple of the key criticisms of the proposed funding of the estimated $1.75 million West Bank Rotary Walkway as they move forward with borrowing most of the money to pay for the project.

  About a dozen people showed up for the second straight Celina City Council meeting Monday to show their support for the walkway project while a couple of others reiterated past criticisms and concerns about the proposal.

  The project calls for filling in about 20 feet of the lake along the 1-mile stretch between the Rotary lighthouse and the state boat ramp. The new path would be about 12 feet of concrete pavement and 12 feet of grass. To get around the spillway basin, the existing sidewalk would be rebuilt.

  Critics of the project have complained that the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district money that is to pay down the debt cannot be legally used for the walkway, because the path lies outside the TIF zone. Kent Bryan, the city's community development consultant, said bond attorneys have researched the issue and advised the city can legally use the TIF funds for the walkway.

  Resident and council candidate Don Kohnen disagreed with Bryan's assessment. Kohnen called the city's legal opinion "very iffy."  Bryan said city officials plan to annex a large tract along West Bank Road to clear up any doubts about whether the TIF money can be used for the path.

  Resident Ron Hammons, who earlier this year resigned his council seat, asked how city officials could pursue this project when voters soundly rejected a lakefront revitalization plan at the polls a couple of years ago. The walkway was a key component of that master plan.

  City officials have previously said the defeat of the master plan does not preclude them from considering any of the individual proposals that made up the master plan.

  Law Director Kevin McKirnan offered Hammons a legal reason to address his concerns.

  "The fact that it was referended does not remove the subject matter from the purview of council," McKirnan said.

  Council is free to legislate on any lakefront issue that was part of the master plan, although presumably would be doing so at some political risk since voters defeated the master plan, he said.

  Councilman Ed Jeffries reiterated past claims that the walkway project lacks popular support outside of the business community. Jeffries said no one from his Third Ward has expressed support for the plan.

  Councilwoman Angie King disagreed. She said she knows many residents who are looking forward to using the lakefront path.

  In addition to the proposed revenue bonds, which still must be approved by council in a final vote, the walkway is also being funded through two other sources. The Celina Rotary Club donated $150,000 over 10 years and the state has set aside $250,000 for the project.


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