Roeland Park residents look at budget shortfall solutions

Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt and Councilor Jennifer Gunby facilitate one of the small group breakout sessions about the city’s budget options.

Roeland Park is facing some revenue shortfalls in its 2014 budget and it asked residents to help decide how they want to face the problem: by cutting services, raising revenues or both.

Between 30 and 40 Roeland Park residents answered the city’s invitation to sit down and think through solutions to confront the financial difficulties Tuesday. Roeland Park has a two-fold problem; the expected loss of sales tax in 2014 if Walmart closes its Roeland Park store by then to move to the new Gateway project in Mission and a continued slide in property values.

After briefing on the budget shortfall, residents worked in small groups to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of raising property or sales tax and to identify services they would prefer to cut or keep if reduced spending is a chosen option. They were also asked for innovative ideas for addressing the issues.

Some of the groups liked that sales tax is paid by people outside of Roeland Park, that it could have a sunset date and that it requires voter approval. But they recognized its regressive nature of the tax. For services, keeping snow removal, police protection and the community center were popular choices, but some groups targeted community events as priority for cuts. They also suggested a new restaurant or coffee shop as a revenue generator. City council members facilitated the discussion which was designed with the help of Kansas City Consensus.

City administrator Aaron Otto told the group that Roeland Park is anticipating only having Walmart sales tax revenue until August 2014, which means an approximate $300,000 loss in 2014 and $700,000 in 2015. A new tenant in the Walmart building could re-capture part of the sales tax loss, but not all of it in the future.

While other cities are starting to bottom out or recover from the recession-generated slip in property values, Roeland Park anticipates another decrease in value this year, which lowers property tax revenue if the rate does not change. Otto also showed how Roeland Park stacks up against other Johnson County communities in its spending, which is $896 per person compared to a $1,092 average in the county.

Results of the conversations will be available on the Roeland Park Web page and the city will continue to receive budget comments from citizens.