Shawnee voters soundly reject property tax increase for community center

A rendering of the proposed community center. Shawnee voters rejected a tax hike to pay for the project.

Shawnee voters sent a clear message in the mail-in ballot election that wrapped up today: No property tax hike for a community center.

Unofficial final results posted by the Johnson County Election Office early this afternoon showed the electorate roundly rejecting the proposal put before them, which would have raised the property tax rate by 2.919 mills to fund construction of a $38 million community center with indoor sports facilities, a pool and meeting rooms, among many other features.

Of the approximately 20,000 votes cast, 72.12% of voters rejected the ballot proposal. Just 27.88% supported it.

Chris Karner, chair of the Vote No citizen group, praised the results.

“It sends a message that our tax rates are already high and need not be higher,” he said. “It also says that the people of Shawnee are not interested in going into competition with private fitness centers generating revenue for our city.The people of Shawnee spoke and common sense prevailed.”

In a statement issued shortly after the tally was posted, Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler said the vote had given citizens the chance to make their voices heard.

“Listening to our residents is crucial. The Governing Body wanted to ensure we gave every single registered voter in Shawnee a chance to weigh in on this important issue,” said Distler. “We were able to do that through a mail-in ballot. The majority of people who voted have let us know they do not support the proposed Community Center. We appreciate everyone who took the time to vote and let their voices be heard.”

Figures from the Election Office put voter turnout for the measure at 46.38%.

The election set off a flurry of campaigning from residents and organizations on either side of the issue. Proponents argued that the center would be a significant quality-of-life enhancement to the city, much like similar centers in neighboring Lenexa, Mission and Overland Park have been. In late April, the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Director’s voted unanimously to endorse the proposal, saying it was the kind of amenity that would attract businesses and residents.

But opponents organized visible efforts to challenge the measure. “VOTE NO” yard signs popped up across the city, and opponents turned out in force at informational meetings and peppered city staff with challenging questions about overall construction costs, the affordability of memberships and the ease of accessibility for residents who live on the city’s east side.

The lopsided results suggest those concerns swayed the vast majority of Shawnee voters.

The Johnson County Board of Canvassers, which is made up of the members of the board of county commissioners, will meet next Tuesday, May 28 to certify the final results.