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Issues

As Overland Park approaches the 60 year mark many hard decision will have to be made.  Infrastructure is aging and we can no longer allow the city to table these issues past 2020.  The current 2020 budget expenditures are in the red as revenues is no longer able to keep up with increased spending.  The current 2020 budget is spending down our reserves just to meet the current spending.  This is an issue that will not allow Overland Park to keep a AAA Bond Rating and their current artificial mill levy.

Sales tax revenue is down, property taxes are already set at the maximum the state allows for items like road repairs, all while payments to developers are up 38% in 2020 alone.  Despite the significant investment that has been made to developers to push Overland Park forward, retail in our city has increased 17% between 2008 and 2018.  The average retail increase in the remaining Johnson County increased 26% in the same time frame.   Market share within the county has also continued to decline over the past ten years.  Evidence that current city council strategies have not produced the desired results.  Even with these daunting figures the current city council is still pushing forward with more plans to divert tax revenues from the residents to lobbyists on projects.  This is not a sustainable model and certainly won't address the pending infrastructure challenges that lay ahead.  Currently, the only talk of a corrective action for the prior decisions made by the current city council is to ask the voters for an increase in mill levy and to approve and increase in the 1/8 cent sales tax for roads set to sunset in 2024.  This simply just puts the burden of their decisions on the residents.  There is still time to put our city's spending back on the right track but that time is now.  See below for more on the specific issues below.

 

Budget and Roads

Road conditions and maintenance is a very critical issue that must be addressed over the next term.  This is why it is imperative that we have the best candidates in place for these discussions on how we deal with what the previous council has neglected.  Currently, road maintenance is funded thru property tax and a 1/8 cent sales tax.  To complicate matters the 1/8 cent sales tax expires in 2024 and will require approval by the residents to continue to budget that revenue for road repair.  This also applies to the property tax.  Leadership is currently collecting as much tax as allowed by the state without asking the public for a raise of the mil levy. 

One statement we can expect to hear over and over again this election from incumbents is that "we have the lowest property taxes in the area".  That is a correct statement but the question to ask is a mill levy that doesn't provide the revenue to cover basic city functions a true mil levy or a false number?

Thus far, the only discussion by committees and city council members has been centered around asking the public for both an increase in our property tax as well as not just renewing the sales tax but raising it.  As stated above, total budget expenditures are already in the red while payments to developers are up 38% in one of the wealthiest areas in the city and wealthiest city in the US.  As Charlotte O'Hara, former 27th district Kansas Representative advised the city council while objecting to more "Corporate Welfare" in a recent meeting "Our industry is fully capable of standing on its own".  The accomplished Ms. O'Hara has been a General Contractor and Developer and currently works as an Industrial Real Estate Investor.  Revenues pour from the residents hands and into developer hands for projects slated to happen regardless. 

Meanwhile, we know basic services have been cut to the bare minimum and the residents are now being sold "chip seal" roads which is not well liked by residents, extremely disliked by bicyclists, and does not address the structural integrity of this aging infrastructure.  In addition we have understaffed our police force and simply to not have the resources to maintain basic items like aging sidewalks in already existing development.

These corporate handouts to projects that do not warrant nor need the assistance is just another example of the current mindset of our leadership to push Overland Park forward while leaving the residents and infrastructure behind.  As a member of our city council the next few years will be crucial in reigning in spending on projects that divert resources to future projects that don't benefit the community as a whole.  We have reached a time where services have been cut to the minimum and these funds are needed to address the issues and maintenance of what we have and what residents want.

When it comes to Ward 6, specifically the southern portion, the council has revised the standard thoroughfare structure historically provided to the rest of the residential and commercial areas.  As a result of the lack of funds the council is currently planning on replacing the two lane roads that cover our southern portion with more two lane roads while acquiring by Eminent Domain the land they may or may never use to widen the road to four. 

A practice that falls well outside the spirit of government to use the drastic tool of Eminent Domain on it's residents.  The plan to replace the current two lane Quivira between 159th & 179th with another two lane road comes at the expense of $27 million.  This is only the beginning as these plans also exist for most north/south roads in Ward 6.  Again, due to lack of funds left for resident services these plan do not include the use of storm drainage systems and instead will rely on overgrown above ground drainage areas along the road with sidewalks on the far side of the drainage ditch.  This plan also neglects underground utilities.  Their intention is for the adjacent property owners to maintain these wet overgrown areas at their own expense and risk.  Homeowners will be expected to possess the equipment required to accomplish this in which most do not.  Without the proper equipment the adjacent property owners will be forced to hire a company who can safely accomplish this or risk their own safety in order to maintain city property.  Most likely residents won't be able to comply with this responsibility and the end result will be a series of overgrown roads side areas covering all of the southern portion of Ward 6.   

I have addressed this with the city who had not considered the ramifications of asking the residents to maintain their drainage system and hope to produce some results.  I am committed to sticking with this issue and other lacking basic public service issues to ensure Ward 6 receives the same services as the rest of the city.   I believe this is a carryover mindset by the current council to annex and ignore still active today, years after the annex, and that must be stopped.

 

Schools - Our Most Important Asset

When you see a house listed for sale in southern Overland Park what is one thing it always advertises?  It usually does not state that it is close to a tax payer funded shopping center.  It always advertises that it is in the Blue Valley School District.  I have had discussions with multiple families that bought homes close the the new Wolf Springs Elementary School simply to ensure their children enrollment in Wolf Springs and to take advantage of their innovative Chinese Immersion program.  This serves as an example of how a strong school system is our most important asset.  Strong schools is both an investment in our children's future and economy.  Strong schools raise property values and inherently supports local business and services.  This can lessen the need for projects that would not be viable without the support of tax payer funds.  I am dedicated to ensure that we support our schools so they remain strong, innovative, and constantly leading the way as the best schools in the nation.

It is vital that city council recognized the importance of children's future and local economy by promoting and supporting the school districts as one of our cities greatest asset.

 

Budget - A Critical Time for Overland Park

The city council currently finalized the 2020 budget by having to spend down reserves as revenue does not generate the funds needed for basic services.  This process has highlighted the challenges that Overland Park will soon face.  Previous decisions has created budget downfalls that can no longer be tabled and has reached the point where tough choices must be made.  Sales tax revenue is down and continuing to decline. The council is currently collecting the maximum amount of property taxes allowed by the state leaving no increase in revenue for basic infrastructure such as needed road repairs.  At the same time payments to developers for previous approved projects is up 38% in 2020 alone.  While current councilmembers lead residents to believe the city budget is same as our personal finances and we must have reserves for difficult times they fail to address the fact that the city is currently outspending revenue and must spend down current reserves to make the 2020 budget work.  This leaves Overland Park extremely vulnerable to a recession and the well know tax refund and loss of revenue we can expect from the property tax appeal currently being won by big box retailers

The discussions that came out of committee meetings did not included cutting spending or revisiting the importance and necessity for the city to fund new projects or business ventures that would and should be able to stand on their own.  If we proceed with status quo we can expect to be asked for a sales tax increase as well as increases to our property tax even without an increase to the value of our homes or services provided.  To this day, no other option has been considered.  I believe current spending levels must by closely analyzed and addressed.  It is time for an open line of communication directly with residents to voice how they prefer their tax money is spent.  Every dollar must count and status quo unanimous approval of all proposed contracts must end with more careful consideration given to all spending.  Below is an example of the current mindset of our leaders that experience trumps resident input with the result being just another $98,000 spent without consideration if it's necessary or even desired by the residents...

Quick Summary - Councilmember Rick Collins motions for approval of $98k design only contract for a 2.2 million dollar restroom and playground park upgrade.  Resident Ralph Beck voices his opinion of sensible options.  Committee quickly chooses "experience" over consideration of resident input.

 

 

Public Safety - Let's Address This Consistent Concern

Residents have continued to voice their consistent concern about Public Safety.  This is a basic and inherent government function and responsibility.  First and foremost, residents must feel safe on the roads and in their own homes.   Police and Fire Department response times as well as basic presence play a critical role in achieving the best possible level of comfort for our residents.

Our police force is currently understaffed and underfunded.  This is an issue that was once again tabled in the 2020 budget.  Public safety is a basic pillar in maintaining a safe and desirable place to live.  There is much more we can do both to increase moral in our local police force and the services provided.

Mental health has become a commonly discussed topic in many cities around the country and Overland Park should be no different.  We need to work with organizations such a JOCO United who have done extensive research on the topic of transparency and police force training on Critical Incident Response when it comes to mental health.   

This concern for basic public safety has been especially prevalent in Ward 6.  It is time to address what our residents demand with more police presence and shorter response times.  I have had discussions with too many residents in the southern portion of Ward 6 that feel response times have been unacceptable since the annex.  Many residents have tried over and over to have this issue address with very little if any success.  I am listening and promise to make this a top priority!

 



Paid for by Scott Hamblin For City Council
Tara Brune, Treasurer
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