Overland Park Wards 4 and 5 city council candidates on the issues: tax incentives

Overland Park city hall

The six candidates vying for Overland Park city council in wards 4 and 5 answer a reader question about tax incentives.

In early June, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park City Council address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the people of Overland Park.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Read the candidates’ responses to previously published questions about affordable housing, police transparency, climate change and chip seal. Below are the candidates’ responses to the fifth and final item:

The city’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses and spur new development have become the subject of extensive debate in recent years. What’s your general view on the use of tax incentives? Should they ever be used for greenfield projects? Are there any tax incentive tools you believe should never be used? Why or why not?

Ward 4

Ty Gardner

For a city like Overland Park, tax incentives should be pretty rare. We have a highly educated workforce and one of the higher-income populations in the area. These facts make us highly attractive to business without needing to spend taxpayer money to bring or keep them here. I would support the use of incentives when it is a project that would not get done without them and would bring more value to the community than it costs. I would also support using incentives to attract key industries that will help drive our future success. But my support of these incentives would be far more limited than what we’ve seen from current leadership. What I am against is categorical rules that say we should never use tax incentives or we should always use them. The reality is that tax incentives are a tool. When used correctly, they
can bring great value to the community. The same way we wouldn’t say that you should never use a hammer because you might hurt your thumb, we should not outright dismiss tax incentives as a tool just because they’re not always successful. We should use them when it makes sense for our community. With a city like Overland Park, those instances where it makes sense will be pretty rare. But our leaders should not be afraid to act where it will benefit our City.

Stacie Gram (incumbent)

Stacie Gram Headshot

I support the careful and judicious use of tax incentives as part of fulfilling the vision of ForwardOP, the city’s long-term plan for its future. Incentives are appropriate under certain circumstances. These include:

  • Attracting a business that would not otherwise come to the city, if the business will bring desirable jobs that spur additional tax revenue.
  • Improving an area that is not otherwise succeeding.
  • Providing needed office space when we have insufficient supply to meet demand.
  • Creating a public amenity or space that we need but don’t have.

Cities all over the country use tax incentives as a tool to create exciting and innovative communities – the kind of communities that succeed because they attract businesses and families. Tax incentives are great tools for blighted areas, certainly, but can also be used to upgrade areas like Cherokee South Shopping Center, build the youth sports center at Bluhawk or attract a major business center like the Sprint (now Aspiria) Campus. They should not be given out too freely or quickly, but carefully and thoughtfully and only when they truly benefit Overland Park residents.

Our city has benefited from the use of incentives in the past and can continue to be successful with them in the future. Overland Park’s use of tax incentives has resulted in consistent net revenue gains. Our professional city staff carefully structures all incentive agreements to protect taxpayer dollars. I am committed to reviewing each new proposal carefully to determine if it is suitable for tax incentives.

Scott Mosher

This just needs to stop! Developers should build here because it is a great and safe place to live, work and play! We don’t need to give tax breaks for more office space (in example) as many office buildings stand empty or businesses that would have moved here anyway to hear them talk. If we do give incentives out, maybe we give tax incentives to developers who remodel those empty office spaces in existing buildings. (Prevents blight, teardowns) There may be a time that using this method to bring businesses to OP is necessary, but not the norm as it seems to be. Yes, case by case. This is too taxing on our budget.

We also don’t hold developers to time goals and penalties, “understanding” why these goals aren’t met and giving leniency. Why have these as part of the tax giveaways if we don’t hold them accountable. You can bet they hold the city to their word! The council does this over and over! Say what you mean and do what you say! I would love to look up the dollars that the council/ city forgave by missed deadlines and promises! That’s tax dollars missed due to not living up to agreements. Assess them and return money back based on a contract or stop giving out incentives in the first place.

Ward 5

Amy Goodman-Long

Tax incentives must be designed to achieve the overall City goals. Good examples of successful projects which took unsuccessful areas of OP and made them over again, include the Cherokee South Shopping Center (95th & Antioch), Nall Hills Shopping Center (95th & Nall) and Downtown Overland Park (which has attracted over 800 new residents). Generally, providing incentives to greenfield projects should be avoided. Projects requesting incentives should be required to demonstrate with objective, unbiased analysis what they will contribute to the residents of Overland Park and its surrounding neighbors. With those standards in mind, I believe all incentive requests should be viewed on a case by case basis.

 

 

Sam Passer

I’ve reviewed many of the tax incentives that Overland Park has used over the past several years and have found that most investments have paid off – I believe the facts prove out that these incentives have truly been investments and not giveaways. For instance, the city may give property tax incentives that produce increased sales tax so the net impact was positive for the city. Additionally, in these incentive contracts, the city protects us, as taxpayers, so we’re never at risk if the company doesn’t meet its job or growth projections. In the few cases when companies haven’t hit their promised targets, those companies repaid incentives through clawback provisions the City required. I believe it would be a mistake to swear off offering incentives to attract new business. I am in favor of continuing to review incentives that have been offered, analyze the return on those investments, holding those who have received incentives to live up to what they agreed to deliver, and to adjust incentive strategies as appropriate to make sure maximum investment revenue is achieved. Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of investments should only be used in blighted areas… The absolute worst time to make an investment is when you’re desperate. A healthy economy stays healthy. When you let an area deteriorate to blight, you’re facing an up-hill battle to recover. It is prudent to stay at the top of your game and continue to improve each day rather than resting on your laurels and watching things slowly fall apart and then act out of desperation.

Sheila Rodriguez

Overland Park is clearly attractive to new and expanding businesses. I believe most commercial development will happen organically & without the gift of a tax incentive. I’m not against tax incentives if they are part of a larger strategic plan to revitalize an area of the city that needs revitalization or to fill a void/need we have within our community, but I AM against giving away tax incentives to commercial developers on multi-million dollar developments when it’s at the expense of our residents and/or our basic needs.

I believe in balanced development; however, reinvesting in our core infrastructure and public services/amenities should be our PRIORITY. I want to preserve Overland Park and ensure it’s an exceptional city that residents and business owners are proud of. I believe the over-abundance of new commercial development over the last few years is beginning to erode the quality of life for residents. Like many of you, I’ve recently lost several wonderful neighbors who moved to Prairie Village, Leawood or Lenexa where they believe a greater value for their money is offered. We can’t change things if we don’t acknowledge them, so let’s make the necessary changes and retain residents.

In the short-term, the over-abundance of tax incentives provided to commercial developers has negatively impacted our budget and long-term, could be detrimental to the financial health of our city. There should be sufficient funds in the budget to adequately staff the number of first responders needed for a city of our size, afford higher quality streets, curbs, sidewalks or add additional traffic lights as needed without raising our taxes. Homeowners shouldn’t be penalized by contributing more money towards a budget which seems to allocate more funds to developers than meeting the high expectations of our residents, business owners and visitors.

We need to change our priorities. We deserve better.

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