The Dodge City Commission wants affirmation from college board before allowing issuance of dome project bonds.

The Dodge City Commission added a catch when it approved the issuance of $5.5 million in tax-exempt bonds for the construction of the Dodge City Community College Student Activities Center dome. To get access to the money, the DCCC Board of Trustees must pass a resolution declaring that it is pursuing the merger plan with Fort Hays State University actively and in good faith.

While the majority of the college's board and its charitable foundation have been treating the dome project as completely separate from any potential merger with FHSU, the city's approval, at least weakly, ties the issues together.

The version of the bond resolution with the requirement was introduced at the regular City Commission meeting, Monday, alongside an earlier version without the caveat.

The city is not liable for paying the bonds, nor is it liable if the DCCC Foundation defaults on the bonds, but the special type of bond under state law can only be issued at the behest of a municipality, providing a wedge for the city to influence policy in a limited and perhaps only symbolic way.

The city's position is that the dome project is important, but even more so if the college becomes a four-year institution, City Manager Cherise Tieben said.

The potential merging of the college with FHSU is "a huge economic development issue in our community," she said after the vote. The hope is that the college will clarify its intent in the face of criticism and questions surrounding the merging plan, as statements made by trustees give the impression that the college would seek to change elements of the plan that are already working their way through state governmental agencies. 

DCCC Foundation President Duane Ross made the case for the dome with or without the merger with FHSU, but added that "we have an opportunity to double the size of our population on campus, which makes it more critical to have a place on campus where they can be safe and socialize and have activities."

The bonds will go toward the construction of the first phase of the building, a 170-foot diameter monolithic dome that will act as a FEMA-approved tornado shelter. Other buildings circling the center dome will add services to the building, including locker rooms, a game room and offices for athletics staff members.

Groundbreaking for the dome portion of the project could happen as early as August. The dome portion needs to be constructed by April of 2016 in order for the college to secure a roughly half-million dollar grant from FEMA.

Members of the DCCC Foundation and college professional staff left City Hall relieved that the difficult project had passed what has been a major hurdle, financing.

Assuming the DCCC Board of Trustees issues the resolution as requested by the city, certainty will also make it easier for the foundation to secure additional donations.

Once built, the foundation will not stop seeking private help in paying the bonds, Ross said.

Under Industrial Revenue Bonds, the city will hold the title to the dome for the DCCC Foundation. The foundation will then lease the building to DCCC, which will essentially make the bond payments from the equivalent of one mill of its property tax revenue.

The bonds the city allowed is an agreement with the foundation, not the college, as other government entities are not eligible for the tax-incentive bonds. So, under the agreement, the non-profit foundation will only be able to sell the bonds if a third party, the college, passes a resolution.

The vote passed 4-to-1, with Commissioner Kent Smoll dissenting.

"I'm not against the dome, I just don't think it needed to be in there," Smoll said, referring to late-added clause.