Lenexa City Council candidates on the issues: Civic Center, public finance incentives and redevelopment

Lenexa_City_Council

Based on input from our readers, we asked the candidates running for Lenexa City Council to respond to four questions about issues facing the city. Here are their responses:

City Center development

It’s been a historic year for Lenexa with the opening of the City Center campus. What needs to happen at City Center over the coming four years for the project to be a success in your estimation?

Ward 1

Aaron Borghardt
A key success measure will be the continued utilization of the facilities along with the addition and retention of businesses in and around the City Center campus. There are plans to have additional vendors at the Public Market, with construction of new restaurants and other retail in the area which will be a draw not only for Lenexa residents, but the entire area. The city needs to continue diverse and inclusive activities on the City Center campus, continue to attract and retain vendors for the Public Market while ensuring it remains financially viable for them to occupy the space, and continue community activities that will be a draw for all in the area.

Joe Karlin (incumbent)
Several of the key events necessary to continue making City Center a success are already underway. These include the building of the Library, the SMSD Natatorium, the District, and a string of restaurants at the southwest corner of 87th and Renner. As these begin to get built, the city and its developer needs to continue development of the area between and around this area.

Ward 2

Stacy Knipp (incumbent)
Did not respond

Bill Nicks
City Center is already a success; with features such as restaurants, the rec center, the history plaza, upscale living, city hall, the library, the market, hotels, retail, Park University and the aquatic center. Now, we have to keep it successful. Aggressively working with the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council to keep it in front of investors is a must. We need to keep partnerships strong and be alert for other partnership opportunities such as the ones we already enjoy with the library, the school district, Park University and the county park and recreation district. As with the rest of the city we need to insure that maintenance and city services such as police, fire, streets and storm water remain top notch. Traffic must be monitored to insure safe and convenient auto, truck, bike and pedestrian access through the area, and especially as it passes through to I-435 and along Renner Blvd. City Center is already a success. It is our responsibility to keep it that way.

Ward 3

Corey Hunt
Did not respond

Lou Serrone (incumbent)
Did not respond

Ward 4

Michael Elliott
First, I think it’s important to separate discussion of this area between the public buildings (the civic center/rec center campus) and the larger, surrounding commercial development. Like all large-scale commercial development, I believe success will be achieved once the city government steps back, stops using unnecessary tax incentives/giveaways and lets the market determine the pace of development on the surrounding commercial land. Working as a real estate appraiser for over 20 years, I have seen many examples in the metro area of successful developments of this size that were completed without taxpayers on the hook (such as Townsend Summit in Lee’s Summit, zero public incentives). The Lenexa city government attempting to “force” their preferred development will only lead to more missteps like brand new parking garages being torn down and overdone, million-dollar traffic lights. A representative of Ward 4 (the older, traditional part of Lenexa) has a responsibility to ensure ALL parts of Lenexa are successful, not just a new, favored development. I will be that voice for Ward 4, ensuring taxpayer funds benefit ALL of Lenexa, not just a few favored developers. Keeping a low tax environment with minimal city interference is the best way to ensure development occurs at City Center that will be successful over the long-term.

Mandy Stuke (Incumbent)
It isn’t fair to list only a few items to define the success of the Lenexa City Center campus in the next four years, because it’s more than that; it’s a multitude of things over time. The idea for City Center was formed from the Vision 2020 plan, where two decades ago, Lenexa citizens voiced an idea for a community-gathering place to be built in their city. I’ve said this for many years that I envision Lenexa City Center to be sui generis, meaning that it is a place unlike any other.

There are many projects that have been completed and opened to the public, creating a perception of success at this point in time. From the opening of the Lenexa Rec Center and Public Market to the groundbreaking of the Shawnee Mission Aquatics and the future Johnson County Library, there are many things that we are proud of, but projects like these take time. I will celebrate the success at each stage of completion as the over-reaching project progresses.

Balancing redevelopment with existing neighborhoods

As Lenexa sees a wave of new development and redevelopment projects, what steps should the city be taking to balance the desires of current residents with the need to accommodate growth?

Ward 1

Aaron Borghardt
Many conversations with friends and neighbors in Lenexa have uncovered that they are unclear of the rationale behind the direction of development decisions, particularly around the continued addition of multi-family developments when it seems that the area is already saturated. Additionally, we as a City need to not only look at building new and heading West, but not be distracted by this new growth and ensure that areas in the more established parts of the city are attended to as well.

Joe Karlin (incumbent)
The key word in this question, and the answer, is balance. Lenexa has done a great job of balancing these needs, and should continue to do so. Growth purely for growth’s sake is not accept able. We need to continue to develop a combination of residential and commercial, with plenty of green space.

In addition to the newer parts of Lenexa (mainly west of I-435), Lenexa must continue to maintain the more mature parts of Lenexa. One of the many things that makes Lenexa special is the more mature parts and its families. We must continue to maintain, rejuvenate and grow those areas as well.

Ward 2

Bill Nicks
In balancing the desires of current residents with the need to accommodate growth the city should ‘stay the course’ by following the city’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning maps. Those plans, with regular updates, have served Lenexa well. Input from all quarters, gathered through public hearings and community wide conversations, goes into those plans and they are wonderful guides for residents and businesses alike when determining investments and quality of life issues. Those documents provide for orderly and balanced growth. Lenexans like to ‘stay’ in Lenexa. They may change housing (2 or 3 times), but they ‘LIKE’ Lenexa. Good consistent planning is a key reason. They like that development in Lenexa, especially in Ward 2, works to conserve Lenexa’s beauty and natural areas by working with the contours of the land, the water sheds and by preserving natural areas. While I was Lenexa’s Parks & Recreation director we drew the lines on the Comprehensive Plan for what would become the biking/jogging trails, we identified future parks that became Black Hoof, Centennial, Craig Crossing, and the 60 acres at the western edge of 95th Street. Some of those features were not even in the city limits, but we planned for Lenexans yet unborn. Pay attention to the plan! For smaller tracts of land, in-fill property if you will, Lenexa’s leaders must be alert to zoning change requests and consider carefully the impact the request has on surrounding properties. Once again the city’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning maps are wonderful guides in keeping Lenexa a great city.

Ward 4

Michael Elliott
The city needs to have a plan that actually results in ACTION for areas such as Old Town Lenexa, not just additional “recommendations” and “studies”. The previous “New Look at Old Town” study is now years old and resulted in no meaningful action. We need creative ideas that turn Old Town into a regular destination, not a twice-a-year backdrop for a city festival. These include moving/establishing a farmer’s market in the Old Town area, making Santa Fe Trail Drive more bike/pedestrian friendly and most importantly, reducing the cost of doing business in Lenexa by keeping sales and property taxes in check. A small business cannot reasonably survive and attract business with sales taxes approaching 10%. These items need to be completed sooner rather than later (not the “5 years is short term” as proposed by the city council’s latest, meaningless Old Town study). Respecting the historic/traditional part of Lenexa is important if newer developments to the west are to thrive – we must move forward as one city, not a “new and favored” half and an “old and forgotten” half. Lastly, Lenexa has fallen well behind other peer cities in terms of bicycle infrastructure. It’s not enough to have “plans” and talk about “complete streets” theories– nor is it necessary to spend unnecessary dollars retroactively tearing up streets for bike lanes. The city has wasted opportunity after opportunity (87th Street from Lackman to I-435, all of the new City Center roads, etc.) where redevelopment was occurring anyway to ensure bicycle and pedestrian needs were fully taken into account. This has put Lenexa behind all surrounding cities in terms of livability.

Mandy Stuke (Incumbent)
The balancing of residential, commercial and retail development to meet the changing needs of the economy and to balance the desires of current resident with the need to accommodate growth will be a challenge and unique opportunity. To address these issues, the city should carefully continue to follow and reference the guidance of Lenexa’s Comprehensive Plan. Providing appropriate revisions and updates as the city continues to mature is imperative as this is a working document that will provide for balanced and orderly growth. Finally, the city needs to continue to carefully assess the results of the Citizens Satisfaction Surveys that are completed every two years. These results have and will continue to guide/determine the priorities of the community.

Use of financial incentives

What’s your view on the use of public finance incentives?

Ward 1

Aaron Borghardt
The use of public finance incentives is nuanced topic. My point of view is that when used, public finance incentives should be limited to and specifically targeted toward incentives for businesses that will provide workforce development and job creation. Wide-spread use of incentives is, and always has been, a bad idea particularly when used for developments such as apartment complexes. The argument has always been that to lure new business to an area, there needs to be a financial incentive package, but earlier this year a comprehensive study of public finance incentives was published where data from 1990 through 2015 was analyzed. The study found that while incentives more than tripled during this period, they were not the deciding factor.

Joe Karlin (incumbent)
If no other municipalities were offering tax abatements and other public finance incentives, it would be easy to be “against” those incentives. But, the truth of the matter is, nearly all cities offer tax abatements and other economic development (eco devo) incentives. In nearly all situations, it’s highly unlikely that any city would receive much (if any) economic development without these incentives.

Tax abatements and other eco devo tools are both a short-term and a long-term play. In the short-term, the city benefits from the subject development and a portion of the property tax. In the long-term, the city benefits with the increase to the full value of tax increment from the development. Development which, absent the abatement, almost surely would have been abandoned or built in another city.

When used in a balanced manner in which the benefits are weighed against and exceed the costs of those incentives, then we benefit from those incentives for generations to come. With development comes taxes, which supports our police and fire, our street infrastructure, our parks, and so much more. Those things help make Lenexa a family-friendly city.

Ward 2

Bill Nicks
The greatest public finance incentive Lenexa can offer is top notch responsive city services; police, fire, streets, snow removal, parks and recreation, storm water, quality planning etc. In addition to those important services financial incentives should be considered when it diversifies tax base, retains or expands existing businesses, improves aging areas, doesn’t harm other taxing authorities such as school districts, produces jobs etc. However, if the project that received the financial package does not hit expected goals on the expected timeline, there needs to be a payback provision in the agreement.

Ward 4

Michael Elliott
I believe any public incentives should be used narrowly and only where absolutely necessary. The regular, rubber-stamp giveaways to private developers need to stop. Lenexa would be better served with a leaner budget that emphasizes core city services (parks, fire, police, roads) and keeps the sales tax low. Collecting an extra 1% sales tax at the older, eastern Lenexa shopping centers (tax giveaways that go directly back to private shopping center owners) are a prime example of overreach and short-sighted irresponsibility by Lenexa government. The small business tenants in those centers would be better served by lower sales taxes enabling them to survive and thrive.

Mandy Stuke (Incumbent)
Public finance incentives/economic development tools are important and necessary when utilized appropriately and provide significant benefits to our community. When public finance incentives/economic development tools are used, a cost-benefit analysis is performed. A cost-benefit analysis weighs the cost of the incentive to that of the benefit received. These incentives/tools are used by jurisdictions across the nation at all levels of government (local, county, state, federal, etc.). Lenexa has vested interest in being proactive in economic development involvement that brings about the necessity for incentives/tools to be utilized. This involvement in turn brings about growth, investment and development. But before these options are voted on at city council meeting, we carefully read and study the cost-benefit analysis to ensure that it is a good fit for Lenexa overall. With the addition of businesses, more jobs are created which in turn which provides the city with more resources while spreading our tax base.

Biggest challenge facing the city

What’s the biggest challenge facing Lenexa today, and what should the city council be doing to address it?

Ward 1

Aaron Borghardt
Feedback that I have received from people in the community is that the council needs to become more transparent and more willing to engage the community. When I am elected I will maintain an active social media presence where I will publish upcoming city council meeting agendas that will provide a forum for the community to voice their feedback on important issues that will be put to the council for vote. I will also hold recurring community forums to provide residents an opportunity to get to know me and gain a better understanding about what the Council can do better to serve the community. After all, we elect the council so we should have a seat at the table to ensure the council properly represents the community’s interests. I sincerely hope, that when elected, the other members of the council will join me for these forums.

Joe Karlin (incumbent)
The biggest challenge facing is its human resources – the people that make the city run. Similar to what I hear in my “day job” as a bank consultant, I hear from Lenexa and other employers that retaining and attracting quality people is the biggest challenge. The city has a lot of great attributes, but there is no doubt in my mind that our people are our greatest asset.

To retain and attract the best, we must stay competitive in pay and benefits. We must look for opportunities to meet our employees’ needs and dreams, such as flexible workhours, and training and education to allow them to continue to grow.

Ward 2

Stacy Knipp (incumbent)

Bill Nicks
Developing Lenexa’s undeveloped areas and redeveloping aging areas is an opportunity to keep Lenexa a great and beautiful city. Constant streamlining of the development process to insure safe adherence to the codes and policies, while moving projects along will always be a balancing act and one, if done correctly, I believe, will provide a competitive advantage for Lenexa. Continuing to work with the Chamber of Commerce to diversify Lenexa’s job market and tax base (and what a tax base the leaders of the 70s gave us) is important to guard against overall downturns. The challenge to insure that city revenues meet needed expenditures for effective city services (police, fire, snow removal, capital improvements, water shed, parks, etc) will always be with us. Towards that end maintaining the city’s strong bond rating is essential. But long-term multi-year budget forecasts will help even out the inevitable peaks and valleys.

Ward 4

Michael Elliott
We have a wonderful city with parks, festivals and neighborhoods that rival the best in the metro. The responsibility of keeping Lenexa that way requires asking honest questions. I believe the biggest challenge facing Lenexa over the long-term is lack of transparency and accountability of the city government and the decisions it makes on our behalf. This means ensuring your city council is accessible (Lenexa is one of the few cities in our area that does not live stream/video record or archive our city council meetings). People are busy with life, work and school and it is the council’s responsibility to communicate clearly with the citizens of the city. A once a month “Town Talk” newsletter is not only wasteful but does nothing to provide real answers as to what your city council has been up to. This lack of direct accountability has led to a rubber-stamp mentality among the current leadership. This can be solved by make council meetings available to the general public over the Internet, adding terms limits of no more than 10 years (ensuring a balance between new voices and institutional knowledge) and changing rules to allow citizens to speak on agenda items at city council meetings (not just the perfunctory “business from the floor” after everything has already been voted on). This will ensure the voice of the people is not lost in the process as Lenexa moves forward.

Mandy Stuke (Incumbent)
The biggest challenge facing Lenexa today is ensuring that the citizens of Lenexa continue to receive a high rate of return on services provided by their tax dollars. Increased demand for services have been aided with efficient spending, training along with technology that has increased staff productivity. With increased demand, the city also needs to continue to utilize and leverage partnership and grants. In addition, the city must ensure that it maintains its strong financial position along with its triple-A rating, while using taxpayer dollars wisely. This will allow for the city to continue to maintain a high standard of city services, keeping our community safe.