Downtown MHK continues focus on economic recovery for county funds request

·3 min read

May 14—Downtown Manhattan Inc. is asking the Riley County Commission for more money, citing economic recovery efforts.

Downtown Manhattan Inc. is a nonprofit entity that works to promote downtown businesses.

A survey issued to downtown Manhattan employers showed that 85% have experienced difficulties because of the pandemic in the past year, Gina Scroggs, executive director of the business district, said Thursday.

The district is requesting $10,000, $5,000 more than its past two annual requests. Scroggs said that would go mainly toward the organization's event programming and streetscape beautification costs.

Several Riley County entities and organizations continued presenting budget requests and allocations to the Riley County Commission Thursday.

Over the past year, Scroggs said the district has focused on creating more outdoor events and partnerships to drive traffic through the area, such as installing its outdoor dining platforms and introducing a self-directed StoryWalk with Manhattan Public Library.

"We put these measures together so that we could successfully, hopefully, unknowingly, emerge from the pandemic, and now we are faced with our current realities," Scroggs said.

Some of downtown's ongoing problems include having about 15% fewer downtown employees than normal; it currently has about 3,450. About 40% of businesses downtown continue to seek people to fill positions, especially in the retail and restaurant areas.

Scroggs said while the district's commercial and residential occupancy rates are still high, at 95% and 97% respectively, they also are slightly down from its normal rates.

There are some positives, Scroggs said, and even though seven businesses closed during the pandemic, the downtown area made a net gain of 12 new businesses in the past year.

"Despite the economic impacts of COVID, 19 new businesses opened," Scroggs said. "This is the second largest number of businesses that we've ever had open downtown."

Scroggs said the recently-formed Downtown Dream Big Long Range Planning Committee is meeting to assess infrastructure needs in the next five to 10 years.

In the immediate future, the district will focus on providing power to all dining platforms, revitalizing its public art program and introducing three new events.

Additional budget requests and allocations Thursday included:

— Riley County Extension budget: About $609,000 for general office maintenance and employee pay and benefits, $9,000 more than 2021, and $103,000 for the Riley County Fair budget, which is about the same as 2021

— Riley County Attorney's Office budget: $2.2 million, almost $70,000 more than 2021, to include increases in mainly equipment, software, subscription and personnel costs

— Budgets for Riley County Emergency Management: $274,000; 911: $944,000; and Rural Fire District: $1.3 million

— Riley County Public Works and Parks division budget: $8.3 million, about $200,000 more than 2021, to account for increases in cost of asphalt overlays, bridge materials and fuel

— Riley County auction fund: About $9,600 for contractual services

— Riley County solid waste budget: About $2.7 million, $72,000 less than 2021, to account for the current level of service provided in the county

— Riley County building fund: $393,000 for maintenance, repair and upgrade of county buildings, no change from last year

— Budgets for various benefit district projects varied as little as under $10,000 to $146,000

— Riley County Register of Deeds budget: About $460,500, $55,000 less than 2021 because of the lower hourly pay rates for new employees

— Riley County Administrative Services budget: $637,000 for general expenses, about $10,000 more than 2021 because of personnel costs

— Riley County Conservation District: $55,000 for operation and employee expenses, no change from last year

— Community Corrections and Juvenile Supervision appropriations: About $19,500 for its drug court services and conference costs

— ATA Bus appropriation: $120,000 to help provide public transportation services throughout the county, restoring funding to its pre-pandemic level

— Budgets for Riley County Clerk's Office: $1 million, about $121,000 more than 2021, which includes increases in lab fees for drug testing, contractual services, office supplies and personnel costs; and Elections: $695,000, $95,000 more than 2021, for anticipated costs associated with receiving more mail-in ballots