This week, we’ll be running responses from the candidates for Roeland Park mayor to the questionnaire items we developed with reader input last month. The first question is as follows:
The city raised its property tax rate by 26 percent in 2014 in anticipation of Walmart leaving the city. With Walmart now committed to staying in the city in the near term, what should the city do with its property tax rate?
Note: Candidate Linda Mau did not respond to our first questionnaire item.
The taxpayer dollars generated from the tax rate hike in anticipation of Walmart leaving should be separated out into a separate fund. It’s my understanding the city council is going to do this soon. Since additional dollars have been collected and property values have increased significantly over the past few years the city can definitely reduce the mill levy by more than just a token amount of 2 mills that has been talked about. We need to bring the rate to a similar rate as our neighboring cities and not be one of the highest in Johnson County.
The Shawnee Mission Post asks about Roeland Park’s 26 percent increase in the property tax rate in 2014, resulting in the highest tax rate in Johnson County. Let’s be clear. The Governing Body, before that, raised the rate 26 percent from 2011 to 2013. In addition to those stated rates, the City hid 2 mills under the solid waste assessment so that the rate increase would not look so bad. Fiscal year 2011 is important, as it’s the last year we had a fiscally conservative majority on the Council.
With the specter of Walmart’s departure past, and an extra $1.4 million squirrelled away, the Council is debating between cutting the tax rate a paltry 2 percent or not at all. Remember too that property values have increased 10 percent, giving the City an additional 10 percent revenue windfall.
The proposed 2018 budget shows a 14 percent increase in General Fund revenues and a 9 percent increase in General Fund expenditures. So the City wants to take more, spend more and rebate nothing to the property owners.
I believe a tax rate reduction in the neighborhood of 7 mills is in order. How that might break down between cuts in expenditures and reduction of bloated reserves would be a matter of negotiation. The majority of the Walmart reserve would remain, for now, to deal with future developments.
The current Governing Body and some running for office claim that Walmart’s staying is only good for three years. Technically that may be true, but look around. Where, in the immediate market, is there a piece of land suitable for a Walmart? Or, assume the worst. Suppose Walmart does leave. The tax structure at that point is between the future property owners and the City. Today’s owners have been taxed enough for the benefit of unknown future owners. By the way, the proposed 2018 budget includes paying for capital improvements out of pocket, rather than bond issues, exacerbating the taxation of today’s owners for the benefit of future owners.
In short, we have paid record taxes for the last five years. Substantial reserves are in the bank. It’s time to be prudent in spending and give Roeland Park property owners relief.
I will gradually lower property taxes in Roeland Park on an annual basis. Kansans know what happens when tax revenues are drastically slashed. Services – and citizens – suffer. Roeland Parkers deserve quality civic services, top-notch education, safe streets, and an adequately funded police department.
Sustainable opportunities to lower property taxes should include generating new tax revenues from the developments at Johnson Dr. and Roe Blvd., the “Old Pool Site” (4800 Roe Blvd.) property and other targeted development.
Wal-Mart’s plan to leave Roeland Park was the primary reason for the 2014 property tax increase. As a significant contributor to the City tax base, Wal-Mart has made no commitment to staying in Roeland Park. Corporate representatives have told City staff and the Governing Body they wish to grow their current footprint, which they say is not possible in their current location. They still intend to move, and will do so before the end of their lease should they find a suitable location.
We must continue to plan for Wal-Mart’s exit, whether it comes this month, this year, or this decade. When they do, we will have a unique opportunity to work with property owners to reshape our business district and welcome new retailers that share our goals of shops that are local, walkable, sustainable, and bring value and character to our community.
Tomorrow, we’ll run the candidates responses to question number two:
Some residents have been concerned in recent years that the council from time to time gets caught up in personal squabbles. As mayor, what steps would you take to ensure that Roeland Park’s city council and workshop meetings are civil and productive?