Overland Park City Council wards 1, 2 and 3 candidates on the issues: The city’s budget

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In August, 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 citizens of Overland Park.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

What’s one area of the Overland Park city budget where you would support reducing funding, and what’s one area where you would support increasing funding? Why?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Ward 2

Roger Tarbutton

Overland Park has a spending problem not a revenue problem. The additional funds needed for the Behavioral Health Unit and other public safety expenditures ($4.2 million) cited as the reason for the recent 10% tax hike could easily have been funded from other line items with lesser priority for which spending was actually increased in the 2022 budget such as finance and administration, planning & development and strategic planning.

I am also concerned about the negative impact on the budget of hundreds of millions in tax incentives paid to developers for mixed use development and luxury apartments over the past 10-15 years. A top ten city in which to live should not have to extend massive tax incentives to attract quality development. Many of these tax incentives remain on the books and are routinely extended by the city council despite missed deadlines. The Tax Increment Financing District Fund for developers increased from 3 to 5 million in the 2022 budget as a result of increased economic activity and property values within TIF districts.

I would support increased funding if necessary to transition away from chip-seal to higher quality asphalt or concrete street maintenance if that is what residents want.

Melissa Cheatham

Overall, I think the proposed budget reflects our community’s evolving priorities. We operate efficiently, employing among the fewest staff per capita in the county. This budget begins to fill gaps, including new hires for parks and forestry and $1.6 million to create the new behavioral health police unit, which I support. In my conversations with voters, they overwhelmingly support this investment in our safety and wellness and are willing to invest accordingly.

In knocking more than 2,000 doors, I have yet to hear a resident ask for cuts to any specific area of the city’s budget. Not one person has asked for less fire protection, less police funding, less investment in our parks, poorer roads, or less communication from the city. Though I will commit to careful oversight to ensure funds are spent efficiently and wisely, I cannot recommend specific cuts to the essential services that our city provides and residents demand. I reject the notion that we must choose only between tax increases or service cuts. Instead, I will look for innovative solutions that create more value to sustain our city.

The biggest change I would like to see in the city’s budget is in the process used to develop it. I think there is room to gather more resident input to shape the budget process. I’d like to see the city host community workshops in person and use new technology tools to allow residents to interact with budget tradeoffs and priority-setting. For example, as I’ve knocked on voters’ doors, I’ve heard several say they want nicer roads AND lower taxes. They welcome my charts showing costs and comparative tax rates and are typically eager to engage in thoughtful discussion. I think we should seek that input more actively.

Ward 3

Amanda Vega-Mavec

Recent research and my own conversations with residents indicate the areas residents would like to see prioritized. In terms of increased funding that includes initiatives that increase access to mental health education and resources, such as the new behavioral health unit. I would also support increased funding for economic development, especially as we continue to overcome the pandemic. As an educator I also always support increased funding for programming related to education and helping families access such programming. In terms of reducing funding, I would look for any redundancy or administrative costs that could be reduced.

Jim Kite (incumbent)

The Overland Park city budget is one of the most carefully crafted planning documents of its type in the area. I believe The City Manager’s budget team has been good stewards of the people’s money and seek out any areas of waste. Cutting the budget in any given area, such as parks, community centers, city facilities, streets, sidewalks, or similar items, will either be cutting something important to other residents, or cutting internal services that will ultimately lead to greater expense later. Claims of fighting waste and lowering expenditures should be backed-up with facts.

While some candidates can make vague claims about increasing funding in one area or another, I have a voting record to prove my position. I’m proud that our recent increase in Public Safety funding passed by a wide margin, and that I was one of the chief advocates. We will have a new fire station coming online, more police on the streets, a new police division aimed at mental health aspects of emergency services, and improved cyber-security for city systems.

Ward 1

Ryan Spencer

Reducing – Admin and Hiring costs overall. I think the city needs to watch it’s spending when it comes to creating and hiring for new positions. Is there truly a need for that position? Are we considering the costs that go along with hiring so many full-time employees? I can assure you that taxes, insurance, and benefits make up just as much if not more of the total cost of a position than the salary/wage. Increasing – Maintenance and Public Works as well as Community Development. I can easily tell you that the top issues I’ve heard from residents that the city could solve today involve sidewalk/curb/street maintenance, street lighting, and truly enforcing code violations instead of a slap on the wrist. The first step in turning around some of our lower preforming neighborhoods is making sure that the residents can be proud of it, and that takes the city doing its part by cleaning up and fixing what they can.

Logan Heley (incumbent)

Our City’s budget is already exceptionally lean, in part because our city property tax rate is about half what it is in other Johnson County cities. We have one of the lowest “employees per capita” of any city in the region. From a fiscal responsibility and social equity perspective, the easiest $260,000 to cut from the budget would be for the Westlinks Fence Replacement project. This is a fence next to a golf course near the intersection of 127th Street and Quivira that our golf professionals said was unnecessary and that our legal department said was not a city responsibility. It’s a complete waste of public dollars to subsidize private improvements for wealthy homeowners, and I was proud to vote against it. There are many other priorities we should be funding with public dollars rather than a fence for a wealthy neighborhood.

Our community’s housing affordability challenge needs our stronger support, and that will require additional financial resources and tools. We also need to start making wiser, stronger, and more realistic budget decisions when it comes to climate action. For example, increasing resources for our forestry department would not only sequester carbon and beautify our city, but it would improve our air quality and help residents maintain trees in their neighborhoods, which also helps reduce their cost of living. I will be watching our Comprehensive Plan process and Infrastructure Advisory Group closely to see what budget recommendations might come over the next year or two.

On Wednesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #3:

The cost of housing in Overland Park makes it unattainable for many families with average or below average incomes. What is your plan to ensure Overland Park has housing options that would be affordable to people without high household incomes? Would you support ordinance changes to allow developers to build attainable housing like cottage communities, town homes, etc…?

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