Overland Park gets high marks from its citizens on quality of life, the tax rate to pay for it and on the speed of growth, but there are still some questions among residents about the justice system and housing options, according to a citywide survey released this week.
And, in what would seem good news for councilmembers who decided to increase property taxes next year to cover more mental health services for first responders, the survey indicates that low taxes are not the top thing on the minds of most residents.
On taxes, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, the conductor of the poll, put it this way:
“This is not to say that there won’t be significant push-back from voter groups opposed to higher taxes. Of course, there will be, and it could be strong. But if higher taxes are linked directly to solving issues like congestion, schools, teachers or mental health, they are likely to be embraced.”
‘Right direction’ vs. ‘wrong track’
The poll of 500 registered voters done in May was intended, in part, to find out if priorities and views about taxation have changed due to the pandemic, changing demographics and sustained growth.
The poll had a margin of error of 4.38%.
The top line conclusion, according to Public Opinion Strategies: “the mood of voters in Overland Park is extremely positive.”
For instance, 75% of respondents said they believe the city is headed in the “right direction,” compared to just 16% who said the city is on the “wrong track.”
That finding was consistent across the city, with Ward 2 the most satisfied with the direction of the city at 81%. Residents in Ward 3 were the least satisfied, at about 70%.
Top concerns, feelings on taxes
Moreover, no single issue stood out as one that respondents were most concerned about.
Crime and drugs topped that list, garnering about 18%, but it was followed closely by education, economic issues and growth/transportation, which was tied with taxes, both with 10% of respondents saying that’s what they were most concerned about.
As for taxes, 72% of respondents said Overland Park’s levies are “about right,” though there was some variation among political parties. About 67% of Republicans said taxes are “about right,” compared to 83% of Democrats.
Only 9% of respondents overall thought taxes were “far too high.”
When asked what services people would most likely be willing to pay higher taxes for, mental health, education, lower class sizes for elementary and early childhood education and increasing teacher salaries were the top three responses.
Creating new public gathering spaces and building a new city hall ranked at the bottom.
Additionally, a majority of respondents seemed not to know or care much that the city’s property taxes are lower than in neighboring cities, though attitudes on that varied by ideology and education level. (Overland Park’s mill levy of 13.557 is the lowest of any city in Johnson County.)
Likewise Carl Gerlach is ending his 16-year tenure as mayor with a solidly high approval rating of 65%.
His support is relatively consistent across partisan groups, 69% approval among Republicans, 68% among Democrats and 57% among independents.
Criminal justice, housing are areas of disagreement
However, there were some areas where the city did not come off as well.
Just over half of the voters say the city’s justice system has inequities with about 18% saying they are “very serious.”
Women ages 18-54 expressed the most concern with that issue. About 65% of them said inequities exist, with 31% of those saying the inequities are “very serious.”
Men over 55 were the only group with a higher percentage – 49% – disagreeing than agreeing.
Residents also were divided on whether housing options are too limited or about right.
Some 56% said the variety of housing is “about right,” but 40% said the choice is too limited, with older residents more likely to say there are too many apartments and younger ones strongly supportive of more apartment construction.
People who said there are too many apartments were also more likely to be Republicans who lived in the city at least 20 years, while those in favor of more apartments were Democrats living in the city less than ten years.
There were no questions on hot button topics like mask mandates or vaccination and COVID-19 testing requirements.
Mainly, the survey was concerned with looking ahead to issues that the city will be grappling with decades down the road, said Tracey Osborne Oltjen, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.
The data will be available as officials consider a new comprehensive plan, she said.
- There is significant support (64%) for policies encouraging lower-cost housing like duplexes, townhomes and garden apartments.
- Renewal of the one-eighth cent sales tax for neighborhood and street reconstruction had strong support across the board, with 86% in favor over all. The tax sunsets in 2023.
- Respondents were about evenly split on chip-seal – a method of resurfacing streets using crushed rock on a liquid asphalt mixture that has proven controversial for many residents — with 28% saying they didn’t care about the issue.
- In general, a strong majority said city and county government were responsive to citizens in handling of tax dollars. But the Kansas Legislature didn’t fare as well, with a 50% plurality disagreeing.
- Johnson County Community College and KU Edwards both have very high favorability, with JCCC at around 94% and KU at 74%.
Read the survey summary here.