The city of Shawnee is moving forward with a public vote on a property tax increase to fund a proposed community center.
After months of discussion, the council voted 7-1 on Monday to hold a mail-in ballot election this May on whether to increase property taxes to fund the project, which will have a maximum cost of $38 million. Councilmember Mike Kemmling cast the dissenting vote.
City finance staff estimated the community center would require a property tax increase of 2.919 mills. That would equate to an additional $7.36 per month for the owner of a home with an appraised value of $263,130, the average appraised value for a home in Shawnee.
The city developed the following chart to show the impact of the proposed increase on homeowners taxes based on their property values:
During discussion ahead of the vote, a majority of councilmembers said they thought it was important to give the public the opportunity to approve the city’s funding plan for the community center.
“It is clear from the response that we’ve seen over the last several months that this is an issue that the public would like an opportunity to weigh in on, and we owe them that opportunity,” said councilmember Stephanie Meyer.
The council also approved a revision to the mail-in ballot language so that voters clearly see that financing the community center requires a property tax increase.
In voicing his concerns with the project, Jenkins wondered if the proposed facility would lack a safe shelter in the event of a tornado. Radd Way with Project Advocates (the owner’s representative on the project) said that the lockers would be a “hardened area,” though not up to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards.
Jenkins also asked why consultants are projecting that the city would operate the community center at a financial shortfall rather than on a cost-neutral budget. Tonya Lecuru, deputy parks and recreation director, said user fees were kept lower so that residents can afford to participate.
Kemmling echoed some of Jenkins’ concerns with the project, including that it operates at a shortfall and that the fitness portion of the facility would compete with private fitness centers.
The council also voted 6-2 to approve general obligation bonds in the amount of $500,000 to cover initial operating costs for the community center. Councilmember Mike Kemmling voted in dissent on all items related to the community center, while his colleague Eric Jenkins joined him in voting against approving the general obligation bonds.
Multiple residents speak for and against project
Multiple members of the public spoke both for and against the proposed community center. Those for the project, including Eric Danielson and Brian Bolen, cited many hours of work already completed to ensure the community center is financially, geographically and functionally fit for Shawnee residents. Those against the project, including Ray Erlichman and Tracy Thomas, had concerns that the city lacked transparency and shouldn’t add more property taxes.
Shawnee resident Tony Gillette also had concerns that the city needed to first distribute more information and allow a public vote at the November general election instead.
Shawnee voters in a mail-in ballot election this May will be able to consider the mill levy increase. If the public approves the project, Shawnee will issue 20-year general obligation bonds this year with average annual payments currently estimated at $2.7 million.