- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Topeka City Council has voted down a plan that would have allowed the city to buy the struggling Heartland Park Topeka racetrack in an effort to repay millions of dollars in bond obligations.

The council on Tuesday night rejected a resolution to allow the city manager to implement a plan that included reissuing sales tax revenue, or STAR, bonds with an estimated value between $4.8 million and $5.5 million to buy the track. The vote was the latest move in a controversy that began when the city voted in 2006 to issue $10.46 million in STAR bonds to finance improvements at Heartland Park, expecting that revenue from the park and surrounding area would pay off the bonds.

But revenue never met the bond obligations and property tax revenue was used to make up the difference. City Manager Jim Colson said last June about $10.8 million in principal and interest remained to be paid on the STAR bonds, and the city could face $8.9 million in subsidies toward those bonds during the next 12 years. The council voted in August 2014 to buy the racetrack and expand the redevelopment district.

That decision drew strong criticism and a petition drive seeking to force a public vote, although the petition was ruled invalid by the Kansas Court of Appeals. However, the controversy delayed the vote on the bonds until after the April elections, when two council members who supported it were ousted. Two other members didn’t seek re-election. Tuesday’s vote was 6-4 against the resolution, which required six votes to pass.

Mayor Larry Wolgast voted in favor of the measure.

“I believe that this proposal has the best chance of protecting the pocketbooks of Topeka taxpayers while giving Heartland Park Topeka an opportunity to prove it can return to contributing to our city’s economy,” the mayor said.

But Councilman Jonathan Schumm said he voted against the proposal because his constituents were opposed.

“I want a racetrack in Topeka,” Schumm said. “I simply do not want a racetrack owned by Topeka.”

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