Mayors paint bright picture of NEJC progress; state legislature the only dark spot

Northeast Johnson County mayors who participated in the NEJC Chamber’s State of the Cities event: (Front row L-R) Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom, Overland Park City Council President Paul Lyons, Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer, and Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach; (back row L-R) Westwood Mayor John Yé, Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt, Fairway Mayor Jerry Wiley, Mission Hills Mayor Richard Boeshaar, and Mission Mayor Steve Schowengerdt.
Northeast Johnson County mayors who participated in the NEJC Chamber’s State of the Cities event: (Front row L-R) Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom, Overland Park City Council President Paul Lyons, Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer, and Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach; (back row L-R) Westwood Mayor John Yé, Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt, Fairway Mayor Jerry Wiley, Mission Hills Mayor Richard Boeshaar, and Mission Mayor Steve Schowengerdt. Photo courtesy of NEJC Chamber.

The mayors of northeast Johnson County cities Wednesday painted a positive picture of changes and accomplishments in the last year with one notable exception: the state legislature.

Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer called the state legislature the “biggest threat” to continued success. That sentiment was echoed by Fairway Mayor Jerry Wiley and Overland Park City Council President Paul Lyons. “I do see some clouds on the horizon,” Lyons said, citing the “propensity at the state to remove local control.” He added, “we see a bright future if the governor and state legislature don’t mess it up.”

The remarks were made at the annual NEJC Chamber of Commerce “State of the Cities” event. Each of the mayors gave a brief presentation, summarizing the last year in their community.

Westwood Hills – Mayor Paula Schwach said the community has been re-greening with new building permits and a drop to only five rentals in the city. Westwood View Elementary, she said, had a six percent increase in enrollment and she talked about the repair work to the historic stone entryways.

Westwood – Mayor John Yé cited the Woodside Village project going under construction, the start of a comprehensive plan, a city park renovation plan, an Urban Land Institute planning day and work on the old church property the city acquired. He also talked about the potential sale of the eight-acre Entercom property across from Westwood View Elementary School.

Roeland Park – Mayor Joel Marquardt talked about the addition of several community events, discussions under way about improvements to Nall Park and the citizen fundraising for R Park. “Development is a big deal,” Marquardt said, noting planning for the old pool site and the corner of Johnson Drive and Roe Ave.

Prairie Village – Mayor Laura Wassmer talked about the re-greening of the city both in terms of residents and the rehab of the city’s shopping centers. She also mentioned the 160 new jobs tied to the arrival of the headquarters of Wire Co. in the city. The new Meadowbrook development and the Mission Road rebuild also were highlights. She said 24 new homes have been built in the landlocked city.

Overland Park – Council President Paul Lyons cited a number of new developments , including a mixed-use plan for 91st and Metcalf. He said four major projects are coming to downtown Overland Park.

Mission Hills – Mayor Rick Boeshaar said housing rebuilds were a good sign. He noted the closing of the 63rd Street bridge for repairs and talked about the effect of the Emerald Ash Borer on the city. Mission Hills has no commercial properties, he noted.

Mission – Mayor Steve Schowengerdt recounted a number of business additions to Mission in the past year, including several new restaurants, a new Starbucks and new business openings in the downtown. He joked about construction starting on the East Gateway (site plan approved Wednesday). “We talk about it a lot,” he said.

Merriam – Mayor Ken Sissom pointed to the end of the Tax Increment Financing plan for Merriam Town Center, a project that 20 years ago removed a large blighted neighborhood from the city. The last bonds will be paid Feb. 1, he said, bringing an extra $329,000 per year in property tax to the city and more to other taxing districts. Sales tax revenue has risen 70 percent since 2010, he said, from new retail and car dealerships. “We are finally going to get all of our roads out of the 1800s,” he said of the city’s replacement of two blocks of Farley, a street originally built in 1871. The study on what to do with the community center and pool will be getting public input this year, he said.

Fairway – Mayor Jerry Wiley said Fairway is 92 percent residential and that residential property values are “skyrocketing.” He said the city is looking at ways to help the Shawnee Indian Mission. He cited the renovation to the city swimming pool last year and a new public works facility, which is actually located in Roeland Park.

Mission Woods Mayor Robert Tietze did not attend.