Roeland Park City Council candidates on the issues: Taxes, parks and public works

Jay Senter - October 30, 2017 1:50 pm

Roeland Park council chamber

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

Property tax rates

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?

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Ward 2

Jen Hill
Roeland Park needs to gradually lower the mill levy, especially as property values continue to rise bringing in more tax revenue. We need to plan for the long range acknowledging that there will be years of abundance as well as years with shortages. A healthy, balanced budget will take into account theses fluctuations and make the tax payer’s burden equitable over time.

The focus on economic and business development will enable our city to slowly lower the mill levy. As we bring in sustainable, neighborhood-friendly businesses, their taxes will counteract personal property taxes due to the fact that businesses have a 2:1 tax ratio over residential taxes. The more attractive we can make Roeland Park for businesses the greater the relief of burden will be on home owners.

The reality is…Walmart has not made a substantial commitment to Roeland Park. They stated that they need more land then we are capable of providing; meanwhile, corporate employees have said they will break their lease if something better comes along. We must plan for the day when the doors close and Walmart vacates, at that time, we will have a unique opportunity to create a Roeland Park that fits the ideals and desires our community. There is a huge plot of land that could be better developed using Community Improvement District money, to bring back a walkable downtown with sit-down restaurants and entertainment locations.

The planning from the previous City Council members will enable us the safety net to move forward toward a bright future for all Roeland Park residents.

Leonard Tocco
I’m the only ward 2 council candidate who wants to reduce our property taxes. Our city has one of the highest rates in our area. Our city has effectively planned for the time when/if Walmart leaves. Over the past several years, our property values have been increasing. The city has seen a significant windfall from this. It is time for city council to reduce our property taxes. We can do this while continuing to invest in the quality services we currently enjoy, like our leaf program, police force, parks, pool and excellent snow removal.

Ward 3

Linda Mau
Mau did not respond to our questionnaire.

Claudia McCormack
I applaud the City Councilors serving in 2014 for making the difficult decision of choosing the future of Roeland Park over political expediency or sloganeering. Raising taxes was necessary at that time and the resulting surplus is a model of fiscal responsibility. There is room to examine further decreasing the property tax in moderate amounts over time. While Roeland Park is among the higher mill levies in Johnson County, we also have more moderate home values. When you combine those two factors, the actual tax dollars are not out of line with the costs of operating a city in Johnson County. The cost of hiring, training, supplying and supporting a high-quality police officer – like the kind of police force we currently enjoy – remains the same if you are in Prairie Village, Mission Hills or Roeland Park. Because our houses appraise at lower values, our mill levy must be higher so our taxes will support the services we find valuable.

Roeland Park also has one of the lowest sales tax rates in Johnson County. That low sales tax rate shifts the burden of supporting city services from the daily users of city services (specifically visitors to our retail centers) to the property owners of Roeland Park – in an unfair manner. Wal-Mart is the highest crime area in Roeland Park and disproportionately taxes our police services. Raising the sales tax should be examined in conjunction with any choice to lower the property tax. Both should be examined with the knowledge that Wal-Mart will not stay indefinitely.

The future of Roeland Park’s parks

What’s your vision for the future of the city’s parks? Should the city be investing more taxpayer dollars in parks development? Or should it continue to rely on citizen fundraisers for large parts of the parks funding?

Ward 2

Jen Hill
Parks are one of the building blocks of a community; we engage in health and fitness activities, children play and make new friends, and neighbors congregate—enjoying time together. The citizen’s fundraisers have worked diligently over the past few years to raise approximately $120,000 through fundraisers, grants, donations, and awards which have made a huge impact upon the Park’s Master Plan. They have been the catalyst to get the parks going…it is now time that the city takes over the majority of expenses and maintenance, allowing the citizens to advocate in other ways.

There will be continued updates to plan and budgeted for, such as new playground equipment—the current play structures have approximately five to seven-years life span left. We need to listen to the Parks Committee for advice and direction moving forward, but we can also look to other communities and research how they have created successful plans. The Coleman Highlands, Karnes Playground, at Roanoke Park is a great example of a community coming together to fundraise, design, and build a natural playground blending into the surroundings, offering challenging play, and is friendly for people of all ages. Roeland Park has the opportunity to create parks that truly fit the needs of our community; we should plan to incorporate the features residents are requesting.

Our parks are still in need of several projects ranging from: the tennis courts, small shade structures and a larger shade structure to protect us from over-exposure of the sun, bike trail completion, soccer field smoothed, removal of asphalt, and continued work on trees and gardens.

Residents spoke up, stating that the parks were their number two priority, according to the citizen’s survey. As your Ward 2 councilor, I will ensure your voice is heard, I will make the parks a priority.

Leonard Tocco
Investing in our city parks is a must. I am thankful for the improvements that have been made to R-Park, Granada Park, and Nall Park. Just as other cities do, we must look at the balance the city provides for green spaces for residents. How can we better utilize the parks we have? How can we provide a safer method of getting to these parks when riding or biking? These are the questions we must evaluate when completing the master sidewalk and street plans. What the city has done to-date has been phenomenal with the citizen fundraisers. I believe this method is working and should continue to be used in the future.

Ward 3

Claudia McCormack
The citizens of Roeland Park have made it clear through the last two citizen surveys that parks are a priority. While that priority is undisputed, it has been left to volunteers to carry out the wishes of the citizens with little support in the form of city tax dollars.

It is rare and amazing for a city to find groups of volunteers so inspired, dedicated and hard-working as we have in Roeland Park. We are uniquely fortunate that the Citizens Fundraising Initiative sprouted up and remained strong in the face of the large task of rehabilitating R Park after years of neglect. Other dedicated volunteers have rallied around Nall Park, which will shortly be breaking ground on a mountain bike path. Our Parks and Trees Committee (consisting entirely of volunteers) provides guidance and collaborates with these groups to make sure the fundraising and planning correspond with city requirements. Another ad-hoc committee is providing recommendations to the Parks and Trees Committee about the design of shade structure in R Park for which funds are currently being raised.

Roeland Park is lucky to have many citizens who dedicate their time and energy as volunteers. While that is lucky, it is not necessarily sustainable. Nor is it reasonable to tell our already-dedicated resident volunteers that they will be forced to continue the hard work of fundraising with no contribution from the rest of us – in the form of tax dollars. No other city in Johnson County relies on volunteers to the extent that Roeland Park does. While it is impressive that we have been able to rely heavily on volunteers, it doesn’t mean we should continue.

As your Ward 3 City Council representative, I will make sure parks are a priority for future funding.

Where to put the public works facility

Roeland Park faces a challenge in finding a new, long-term home for its public works operation. Where do you think the city should locate its public works facility? Why?

Ward 2

Jen Hill
Public Works are crucial in the daily management of our city. Each of us wants the benefits we gain from the department; however, we do not wish to see large commercial truck traversing in and out near our community center, parks, homes, nor schools. These reasons are why we should consider moving Public Works out of Roeland Park to the easily accessible location down Roe Lane. It would be in a commercially zoned area out of sight for our residents, yet still in close proximity to our city with quick and easy access to our neighborhoods in a convenient location; however, we must take into account the toll large trucks will take on our streets with continued heavy traffic. Housing Public Works away from its current location would also allow our city to capitalize on the current location at the rocks in order to prosper business development, thus helping to reduce the homeowners tax burden.

Through keeping abreast with city affairs, I have read that there are 20-30 possible locations that are being examined; although, I’m not privy to all of them because they are being discussed in executive sessions. This option, presented at an Economic Development meeting, is the best choice I’m aware of. This location would be large enough for Roeland Park to share with another city or business hopefully reducing some of the cost. I am excited to hear more from the city in regards to possible locations for Public Works and I am open to any ideas that may positively benefit our city.

I appreciate the quick response from the Council to citizens when they expressed their opposition toward the workshop idea to move public works near the community center. I believe the Council has a duty to listen to the residents and work for them.

Leonard Tocco
Ideally, Public Works should be located within our city limits or close by. If there is not a suitable location within our city limits, we must be cautious about finding a nearby location. It wouldn’t make sense for city trucks to travel additional miles during critical times like snow storms. It also does not make sense for us to move public works into a flood zone. After this summer’s flooding across the metro we must be smart in the location we choose because we don’t want to have to go back and find a new location. Public Works is a critical department to our city and we want to make sure we make the right choice the first time.

Ward 3

Claudia McCormack

The current location of Roeland Park Public Works has far greater value to the community as a retail or much-desired restaurant location. In addition, the building in which Public Works is housed is out-of-date and in poor repair. Because of the small footprint of our city, there are few locations within that will provide sufficient space for Public Works equipment and accommodate the volume of large vehicle traffic without imposing on residential spaces. I have confidence in the professionals who will be searching for a suitable property. As a City Council representative, I will make sure the properties from those proposed by these professionals meet the needs of our city, citizens and staff today and into the future.

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