Overland Park City Council candidates on the issues: Tax incentives, priority issues in northern OP, open forum

Jay Senter - October 31, 2017 9:33 am

Overland_Park_KS

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

Public tax incentives

Overland Park’s use of public tax incentives in recent years has become a hot button issue. Proponents, like the Chamber of Commerce, say that “public-private partnership” on projects leads to high-quality developments that attract businesses and create jobs. Critics, however, say that the practice puts public money in the pockets of private developers, and point to underperforming projects like the Prairie Fire development as evidence they aren’t warranted. Where do you stand on the use of public tax dollars to help get private development projects moving forward?

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Ward 1

Logan Heley
Balancing government incentives for development/re-development with neighborhood character and the community’s vision will continue to be a challenge. Proactively seeking resident input is essential to their buy-in of our collective vision for our city. Input from neighbors regarding vision for our community is essential. Further, it’s important that the city, its elected officials, and developers educate residents about how a plan fits within our community’s vision. Environmental sustainability should be a key factor for receiving government incentives, along with real economic and financial benefits. Private-public partnerships are essential to economic development in our city and community. It’s important that these partnerships are true partnerships. We must also look beyond financial and economic incentives in these partnerships to ensure that our quality of life is sustained.

Dave Janson (incumbent)
This town was built on development, going back to the turn of the last century when William Strang arrived on the scene. Truth be told, each of us is the beneficiary of development. Just look around you – your neighborhood was built because jobs grew and employees needed homes, the people in those homes needed schools, schools needed teachers, which created more jobs. But times have changed. After the recession 2007-2008, banks effectively locked their vaults, demanding increased equity from developers. In response, I believe the City Council has been extremely diligent and conservative in reviewing requests for public/private partnerships, which promote needed redevelopment and provide, in many cases, employment for our citizens. Each of us invest in our City, whether through property tax or sales tax. It’s important to note the City has never approved a public/private partnership that has put the general fund at risk. Claw-back provisions are always part of a public/private development agreement, so if the anticipated results are not achieved, the City has recourse for the investment. The city works closely with the economic development team to attract top-quality companies who want highly educated workers and quality neighborhoods in which to live. Recruiting capital investment is just one side of the cube and Overland Park works on the whole package and the results show our success. Of course, this conversation doesn’t begin to touch the influx of value these properties bring to the city once the incentive expires and they are back on the tax rolls.

Ward 2

Curt Skoog (incumbent)
Did not respond.

Channing Wolfe
Did not respond.

Ward 3

Jim Kite (incumbent)
Overland Park has been a prudent user of tax incentives as we endeavor to re-imagine and redesign the northern part of the city. It’s easy to pontificate about allowing “market forces” to handle development and therefore allow investment to go out to areas way south where it’s cheaper to mow down a cornfield, pour a sea of asphalt, and throw-up a strip mall, than to do the exciting things like those going on in Downtown Overland Park and all along upper Metcalf. Redevelopment is always more expensive than suburban sprawl as it necessitates infrastructure changes not needed in green field development. These projects along with the Class “A” office space projects along the College Blvd. corridor are investments in our future. The campaign rhetoric and smears of others claiming this is “lining the pockets of wealthy developers,” and a “good old boy” network are simply that, campaign rhetoric and completely unfounded.

Debbie Taylor
There is no proof that the huge granting of public tax incentives has spurred growth in Overland Park. In fact, one of the fastest growing cities in the country…San Jose, CA, has not given any incentives to big business developers. Like San Jose, I believe the city needs to invest in small business which will grow and thrive into larger business and stay in the community.

We have an attractive city which in itself which makes it an appealing place to invest. I have personally done this with my business.

If a project cannot sustain itself based on the cost of the building process, it is not a valid investment.

Ward 4

Gina Burke
When government places its thumb on the scale, it forces into motion an unnatural marketplace that unquestionably encumbers existing competitors, and entrenches long-term liabilities on our Citizens.

Ending government interference would encourage Entrepreneurs to bring fresh ideas, and invite private risk on equal terms.

I believe in a “free market system,” which our city should place trust upon to determine the fate of business expansion. If we keep taxes low and reasonable, maintain our infrastructure, and deliver quality public services; businesses will continue to enter our city and our current employers will likewise prosper.

The term, “Public-Private-Partnerships” conversely, is not an open market expression. It is a philosophy predicated on the presumption that Overland Park can only succeed if the City Council provides their well-connected contacts a “starter-kit infusion of the taxpayer’s money.”

I feel a level playing field ultimately provides the greatest reward for long-serving businesses, new upstarts, and our community at large.

Terry Goodman (incumbent)
My view is that the City must have an open mind relative to the use of public/private partnerships as they may be necessary to promote redevelopment and/or retain and attract good jobs to the City. It is important to understand that there are certain projects beneficial to the City that, most likely, would not happen “but for” the willingness of the City to invest in the project. It is also important to understand that the public/private partnerships approved by OP have not put the City’s general fund at risk. Of equal importance is the fact that the City requires claw-back provisions in our development agreements when the public/private partnership is predicated on job retention and/or creation.

Ward 6

Chris Newlin
Overland Park has become in part the city it is today by building partnerships with the business community. At one time Overland Park could just stand by and let businesses come to us, but in 2017 we encounter much stiffer competition.

Surrounding cities invest heavily to drive economic development, and we cannot stand by and just say no. We must have an open mind and equitably consider all applications. If the deal does not make sense for the city, we as a council should say no, but if we do our due diligence, ask the tough questions, and can assess that a project has long-term growth potential, then we should invest in that project. These partnerships are not giveaways as some might suggest, but rather they are about the providing a place to create jobs and long-term economic growth for our city.

An example of the success of strategic investment is at 95th and Antioch. In the six years since that project has been built, the city has invested $1.3 million but has received a return of $6 million in revenue. The revenue that is generated from these public-private partnerships allows Overland Park to grow and at the same time keep the city’s tax rate the lowest in the metro.

David Whitaker
Studies have proved that these types of investments do not pay off for the cities. I do not support this type of investment and feel they are a misappropriation of the public’s money. The city needs to do a post-audit on all projects approved with this type of financing over the last 10 years. All underperforming projects (or where developer/business did not meet the requirements that were specified in the agreement), should have their tax incentives revoked.

Addressing priority issues in northern OP

The city has increased police patrols in the northern part of the city as part of its efforts to improve police visibility and public safety.
The city has increased police patrols in the northern part of the city as part of its efforts to improve police visibility and public safety.

Data from the city’s neighborhood stabilization initiative suggest that Ward 1— which includes the oldest areas of the city — has the highest concentration of priority issues, including absentee ownership and crime. What steps does the city need to take over the next four years to bring Ward 1 into line with the rest of the city?

Ward 1

Logan Heley
I’ve lived in Northern Overland Park for more than 23 years and I care about our unique neighborhoods.

For more than a decade, Ward 1 has been without a council member willing to fight for Northern OP residents. We’ve knocked thousands of doors talking to voters this campaign. There are residents frustrated by buildings going up in Downtown Overland Park that don’t match our neighborhoods, concerned about too little police coverage on their block, worried how they’ll be able to afford staying in their home, and many more. The first step our elected City Council needs to take is to actually listen to the concerns of our neighbors in Northern Overland Park. Only then will we be able to find the solutions needed to sustain and improve the unique neighborhoods we love for our longtime residents and the next generation of our neighbors.

After thorough engagement of Northern OP residents and careful study of their needs, we must have the will and resources to take action. Do we need more police coverage? Better codes enforcement? Visioning for a coherent plan for Downtown OP? When huge storms hit our area this past summer, it became apparent after talking with residents that our city needs a clear and consistent policy for storm debris cleanup. Currently, it’s at the Mayor’s discretion and that does not give residents enough information to prepare for storms that are getting bigger and more frequent due to climate change. We will find the right solutions, but first we need our elected officials to do their job and engage with the people they are supposed to represent.

Dave Janson (incumbent)
Overland Park has worked to institute proven tools to maintain safety and quality of life amenities in our legacy neighborhoods. This list is just a start, as we continue to work with constituents to brainstorm for our next 60 years. During my years on the Council, we have:

  • Reconstructed over 40 miles of ditch streets, bringing new life to Ward 1 neighborhoods;
  • Added code enforcement personnel and launched rental licensing to ensure landlords, absentee or not, take care of their property;
  • Re-established the Police Station on Antioch to better serve the City north of I-435;
  • Continued the Neighborhood Stabilization Program as a very effective tool in identifying at-risk neighborhoods where resources are needed on a periodic basis; and finally,
  • The Community Policing and Problem Solving Officers (COPPS) program, seen as a best practice across the country, is also extremely effective, not only in Ward 1, but the entire City.

Ward 3

Jim Kite (incumbent)
The three northern wards ( Wards 1, 2 & 3 ) have all benefited from the initiative of Neighborhood Stabilization. Overland Park, while being recognized nationally as a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, and a great place to retire, is still an aging suburb. Simply watching the community assets move south toward Oklahoma is not a viable alternative. We need to make sure that residents in the northern areas have access to the many benefits that living here offers. The Community Development organization, through the Neighborhood Stabilization team has been engaged to help local neighborhoods build community. This effort is in partnership with other city departments, including the police and their COPPS program, local code enforcement and their Rental Licensing program, as well as infrastructure improvements, giving these areas a boost and preventing them from becoming areas of urban decay.

Debbie Taylor
Incentivising private property owners instead of big delvelopers would be a more judicious method of improving the quality of life in Overland Park.

The Brookridge Development project will cost taxpayers $600,000,000. That amount of money alone, not to mention the many other private development incentives given out to big developers would make a meteoric improvement in a declining residential area. Taxpayer incentives need to benefit the residents, not private developers.

On a smaller scale, a storm debris cleanup plan would benefit the more mature part of the city.

Ward 4

Gina Burke
Preventing suburban decay is a reality for urbanized communities, and unfortunately Overland Park is not immune from dealing with this challenge.

Some neighborhoods in our city have turned dilapidated, and along with their deterioration, have become crime-prone.

Infrastructure, (although mostly well-maintained), is aging, and in some areas, reached the end of its serviceable life, requiring replacement.

The City has resorted to initiating a two-prong approach to confront these problems using federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and a rental licensing and inspection program.

High density apartments and rental properties are concentrated in the northern part of our city where these programs are being instituted. This same area also has the largest percentage of rental (vs owner‐occupied) homes.

Years ago, Overland Park made the decision to become the densest city in the metro area. Through planning and zoning designations, this strategy became a contributing legacy to this current, and serious problem.

Many presently serving on the City Council still maintain the same “high-density viewpoint,” and are determined to continue approving developments that will follow this pattern into the future.

I believe we need to take a breather on high density developments, and study more closely the unintended consequences they bring to our community at-large, and the challenges they generate for Citizens down the line.

Terry Goodman (incumbent)
This is a major concern for me. I believe that we must find a way to “re-green” the older areas of the City including many aging commercial centers. Our new rental licensing program is a major step in this direction as it will give the City new tools to deal with absentee ownership. We are also in the process of compiling infrastructure assessments in the older areas of the City – especially in areas determined to be “at risk.” I should also note that the police department is well-aware of the issues that exist in Ward 1, and have implemented several programs targeted at this area.-

Ward 6

Chris Newlin
The city should continue to build on the steps already in progress. The rental registration program has been put in place to enhance the city’s ability to enforce the property maintenance codes on the property owners who do not live here. The city has also hired additional code compliance officers to help ensure our neighborhoods are safe, healthy, and a pleasant place to live. We need to work with “Risk Watch” neighborhoods and help take over the 1.25 miles of private roads that cannot be kept up by its residents.

Recently Overland Park moved a patrol division to the Myron E. Scafe building to bring a bigger presence to Ward 1 and help prevent crime in Ward 1. Having our public safety officers more visible will help deter crime and also allow them to respond more quickly when needed.

Finally, the city should look to establishing some investment zones in Ward 1 by identifying specific areas in which redevelopment has been slow and needs to be accelerated. I will work with other council members to make sure that residents’ voices are heard and we are bringing the right proposals forward to revitalize the northern portion of our city.

David Whitaker
Assess the greatest needs from a capital project as well as manpower standpoints. Get citizen input on where they feel the monies and efforts should be directed. Priority should be given to ridding neighborhood of blighted homes because of the detrimental effect they have on the overall neighborhood as well as criminal acts. Consider shifting police concentration to the area to assist in reducing crime.

Open forum and responsiveness

Some residents have complained that they don’t feel the city council is responsive to issues brought forward in open forum. Do you feel the city’s current open forum procedures are adequate? Are there any changes you’d like to see to improve engagement with residents at council meetings?

Ward 1

Logan Heley
I will promote transparency through active social media and by live streaming City Council meetings, making it easier for our neighbors to participate in local government from the comfort of their own homes. When the SMSD Board of Education was voting to close Antioch and Mission Valley Middle Schools, I took a video camera to meetings and began live streaming them for the public. The district had not provided live video until I took that action. I would also like to see better opportunity for public comment at Council meetings.

Transparency, engagement, and responsiveness are important to me. I work at Harvesters—The Community Food Network as a manager for community engagement. I think engaging the community ought to be the job of our elected City Council — and I believe they could be doing a better job of that. I want to take my professional skills to the City Council.

Dave Janson (incumbent)
Both the Planning Commission and Council have multiple public hearing on everything from re-zoning applications, special use permits, as well as the capital and operating budgets, with time for public comment available. Citizens with specific concerns often contact Councilmembers via phone or e-mail as that information is easy to find both on the city website as well as through various outlets online. This is the most efficient and effective way to solve a problem, and during my tenure, I have responded promptly to countless questions and developed strong relationships within neighborhoods to ensure voters’ voices are heard and I’m accountable to my constituents. On occasion, where a concern has city-wide implications, at which point those can be addressed at one of the four goal-area committees for discussion and subsequent advancement to the Council for a public hearing if warranted. I have never had complaint regarding the question you pose.

Ward 3

Jim Kite (incumbent)
People who say that the council is not responsive, or that they don’t have an obvious method for them to be part of the public debate of a given issue, haven’t participated regularly. There are many ways for the people of Overland Park to interact with council members like me. My home telephone number is published on Overland Park’s website. I am provided a city e-mail address which I monitor closely. Messages that I receive by either email or telephone, are answered in a timely manner. I also meet constituents to discuss issues in their neighborhoods, or in local coffee shops. I endeavor to return phone calls and emails promptly. Concerns about a lack of public comment at meetings are unfounded. All committee and council meetings are open to the public. Public comment is allowed in both committee meetings and in council meetings, as well as at Planning Commission meetings. Not all topics that come before the council at a given meeting are eligible for additional public comment at that meeting, due to prior public comment opportunities.

Debbie Taylor
I do not agree that there is an open forum at council meetings. Occasionaly , citizens are allowed a 3 minute comment with no further disscusion.

Council members need to represent their consituents. An open online forum for each council member could be a more contemporary method of the public voice being heard. Individual council members could therefore be more accountable to their constituents.

Ward 4

Gina Burke
An open forum provides Citizens the right to express public discourse, address key matters from their elected officials, and share opinions important to the general welfare of the community.

Our elected leaders, along with public employees should always strive to place the interests of Citizens first, and pursue an ongoing mission of community contentment.
This philosophy can be achieved by a City Council that adheres to an open and honest public dialogue with constituents.

Currently, Overland Park has a policy of not permitting comments on the public meeting agenda. They only permit Citizens to comment during public hearings. I feel this is a disturbing practice that must be reformed.

Transparency and service is the hallmark of good City government, and I will pursue changing the current restrictive speech policy to achieve that goal.

“Public Comments” should be standard protocol at all City Council meetings.

Terry Goodman (incumbent)
This is an invented issue for political purposes. First, we encourage citizens to call their council representatives whenever they have an issue that requires resolution and/or to express an opinion about the City. Our telephone numbers are listed on the City’s webpage as are our email addresses. Second, almost everything that we do such as re-zonings and approval of an incentive request requires a public hearing. As it should be, the City Council will listen for hours to the public opinion relative to these matters. During my time on the City Council, I have never had a citizen tell me that they have not been able to express their concerns and/or issues to me or my fellows on the Council.

Ward 6

Chris Newlin
All council meetings that I have attended have provided a forum for citizens to speak when it pertains to an issue on the agenda when there is going to be a vote. All council members are also assigned to committees that have a forum to speak, and residents are encouraged to attend. This structure helps make sure that meetings are organized and discussion can touch on all of the issues.

Outside of meetings, council members’ contact information is made public on opkansas.org. I have always found my council members to be responsive and they point me in the right direction to get my answers. I have committed to my constituents to always return an email or a phone call in a timely manner to help them.

I am committed to enhancing transparency in our city, including with council meetings that are accessible to our citizens. One change that could be helpful is audio streaming or recording our meetings and making them available on the website. This will give the public a chance to hear discussion on issues important to them if they can not make a meeting.

David Whitaker
The residents are correct based on my experiences in attending City Council meetings. Public comments are rarely, if ever, allowed. The Mayor and Council members act miffed when someone asks to speak. Public comments should be allowed, subject to reasonable time limits, at all Council meetings and hearings. Also, televising the City Council meetings would let more of the public have access to the inner workings and would increase transparency, which is lacking right now.

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