The use tax will be on the ballot again in Independence, and the city has selected its power source to replace the Blue Valley power plant, which is likely to be closed next year.

The City Council voted Monday to put Proposal P, a 2.25 percent tax for online retail sales to help fund the animal shelter and police officers, on the Aug. 6 ballot.

A council majority also authorized a 10-year, $15.25 million contract with Oneta Power, a natural gas plant in Oklahoma for capacity power – the first big step toward closing Blue Valley in mid-2020. The Oneta contract is for 45 megawatts, enough to cover Power & Light's commitment with the Southwest Power Pool – the city's power broker that covers much of middle America and allows IPL to purchase power at lower wholesale prices.

Revisiting a tax

The council voted 6-1 to put the use tax on ballot a year after voters rejected it nearly 2-to-1. This time, Proposition P earmarks funds for two specific sources to a point.

Initially, the city proposed a 50-50 split on tax revenues for the animal shelter and police officers, estimated to be $750,000 apiece at first. Council Member Scott Roberson requested an amendment that funds be split until the animal shelter's budget was covered and the city paid for 30 police officers. After that, excess funds – the “waterfall” from the buckets, as Roberson put it – would go into the general fund.

City Manager Zach Walker said last week the city's new two-year agreement with Jackson County to take over running the animal shelter isn't contingent on voters passing the use tax.

Only Council Member Karen DeLuccie voted in dissent on the amendment and putting the use tax on the ballot, citing the long-term uncertainty with how the shelter would be completely funded.

“We made a bad deal with the county (years ago),” she said. “I want to have an animal shelter, but I want to find a way to run a shelter that we can afford.”

“(The county's) emergency doesn't mean we have to make a rushed decision.”

Other council members said the agreement buys the city some time in a crunched timetable after the county's operator, Great Plains SPCA, gave its six-month notice to leave in January, citing financial constraints.

“This will give us a couple years to look and see if can operate it or if want to look down a different road,” Roberson said.

“The people demand we have an animal shelter,” Tom Van Camp said. “It may not be the best of circumstances, but it is what we're doing now to maintain the status quo.”

The Jackson County Legislature is expected to vote on the animal shelter agreement on June 3. Christina Heinen, special projects manager from the city of Independence, said during Monday's County Legislature meeting that the city planned to start the process this week for hiring animal shelter employees this week for the animal shelter. The city said it aims to fill 26 positions by July 1.

Power plant issues

With the Oneta contract vote, the city can submit the proposed transmission change to the Southwest Power Pool in June for consideration in July. Otherwise, the city would have to wait another six months and couldn't issue to the required six-month notice of transmission change in November. Roberson said if SPP indicates transmission upgrades would cost more than $1 million, than the Oneta deal would be off, but he doesn't anticipate that happening.

“Now we can make plans and move forward with the steps to close Blue Valley,” Roberson said. The expenses of running Blue Valley, which is 60 years old and now seldom used, or how exactly to replace it, factor greatly into electric rates, and last week the council voted to implement a 4 percent cut later this year on top of the 2 percent cut that started this year. Consultants had advised that Oneta's offer – initially for 20 years until Roberson asked for a 10-year deal – was the best for cost and meeting the city's current need.

The council voted 5-2 for Oneta. Council members Mike Huff and Tom Van Camp, who had previously stated their preference for a contract with the gas-fired Dogwood plant in Pleasant Hill as a more secure long-term power source, voted in dissent.

The city currently has an ownership share in Dogwood of more than 12 percent accounts for 75 megawatts. The proposed 46 megawatts would have brought the city's ownership share to nearly 20 percent. Ownership also meant operating costs that are not part of the Oneta deal.

“We need to cover ourselves with true energy, not just renting,” Van Camp said later.

“I don't think we have fully addressed our potential need for energy,” Mayor Eileen Weir said. “I would like to continue this conversation.”

“The numbers bear out that what we need to have is capacity, for now,” Council Member John Perkins said after the meeting. “It gives us some flexibility (for the future). The industry fluctuates like heck.”