Kansas Watchdog – Overland Park City Council hikes property taxes 4.1 mills

link: http://kansas.watchdog.org/7407/overland-park-city-council-hikes-property-taxes-4-1-mills/

Overland Park City Council hikes property taxes 4.1 mills

By Earl Glynn On August 16, 2011
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Pledge of Allegiance at Overland Park City Council Meeting on Monday evening

OVERLAND PARK — The city council voted unanimously Monday evening to raise property taxes by 4.1 mills to fund the 2012 city budget.

This vote followed a public hearing on Aug. 1 when over 20 citizens addressed the council with their concerns about the tax increase needed for the 2012 City of Overland Park budget.

At the hearing roughly half spoke in favor of the tax increase and half spoke against.

Owners of a $250,000 house in Overland Park will see an increase of about $118 in their tax bills later this year.

Highlights of the 2012 budget include:

  • A decrease by 2.1% over the 2011 budget.
  • Further reduces full-time positions from 844 to 826.
  • Adds $1.5 million to street maintenance budget
  • Adds police officers in 2013 and 2014 in the areas of gang violence, organized retail crime, narcotics, and career criminals.

All 12 members of the city council gave their views as to why the tax increase was necessary.  See video below.

Selected comments from members of the council in support of the tax increase:

  • Terry Goodman:  “We’re not talking about funding ridiculous projects often times associated with federal and state spending.  Rather, we’re talking about adequate funding for police, fire, street construction and maintenance, snow removal, etc.  All of which are services integral to maintaining property values and the quality of life we’ve come to expect in Overland Park.”
  • Paul Lyons:  “What I heard more than anything else from people when I knocked on those doors was that they were worried about the quality of life in Overland Park and that they lived in Overland Park because of the quality of life.”
  • Donna Owens:  “This is a very difficult issue, and it’s a very difficult meeting … there is so much misinformation out there … I am going to support this budget.  Not everything in this budget is the way I would see it, but it is a collective decision.”
  • David White:  “We are up here not as politicians but as folks who are the stewards of this city to try to keep this city … from declining.  We have kept property tax rate low, artificially low; so low that people are attracted to our town because you don’t pay very much property tax here as compared to other cities.  … My property tax bill this year …  of that over half  of it went to the school district.  9.1 percent went to the city.  … With a property tax increase of 4.1 mills my tax rate will increase by $6.31 a week.  … How many gunshots have you heard in your neighborhood in the last year?  Zero.  Zero. … About 76 percent of our budget is spent on public safety, that’s fire and police,  and public works, that’s our roads and snow removal …  Are you willing to have gunshots in your neighborhood? Are you willing to wait 10 or 15 extra minutes for an ambulance to show up? … “
  • Dave Janson:  “I don’t think the majority of our citizens would tolerate a reduction in the services they have come to expect.  The easy thing to do is vote ‘no’ on this motion.  But I’m not here to be easy.  This, in my opinion, is the best thing for the city. “
  • Terry Happer Scheier:  “I hate to say this to you, Councilman White.  You said there aren’t gunshots in the city, but sadly enough there is a little bit up in my neck of the woods.  Not very many, but they happen … We need the police, the fire, and everything that’s been said … Our quality of life is more important and critical, and I believe we do need to spend a little extra money, so therefore I’ll be supporting this increase. “
  • Fred Spears:  “When I have talked to some people … in the store, at church, or in the neighborhood, I said ‘what do you think about the tax increase,’ and they said ‘we don’t care about that, we’re still mad about trash,’ with some of the regulations the county is putting in place next year.  … Please stay involved. … I hope to be sitting up here a year from now, and saying ‘yes, let’s roll back the mill levy by a certain amount.’ … If you can find some ideas … because we don’t have all the brains up here or on city staff,  I’d be happy to take the time [to meet with you].”
  • Curt Skoog:  “For those that don’t maybe understand the process that we go through, we are in perpetual budgeting mode here in the city.  We’re doing either a capital improvement budget for six months or we’re doing an operating budget for six months.”
  • Jim Hix:  “The cost of letting the streets degrade, and the quality of our public safety and the quality of life degrading … the cost in your property values degrading will be greater than the amount of the tax.  I have personally concluded that this is an investment to maintain the property values …  Your property, in my opinion,  will be worth more five years  from now if we’re able to maintain  the standards that we’re accustomed to.  I look at this as an investment, not an expense, for the residents and businesses of Overland Park. … There are a number of programs available on a statewide level for seniors, who are low income, to receive abatements and other relief from property taxes. … Because we budgeted doesn’t mean we have to spend it.”
  • Richard Collins:  “It’s not easy to govern.  It’s easy to say ‘no, no, no.’  I think it takes a certain amount of courage to overlook the ‘no, no, no’ and to try to govern … Based on the facts I don’t see any other alternative at this point in time. “
  • John Skubal:  “The next thing that you’d see if we don’t maintain our streets is gravel, and I don’t know  anyone in Overland Park wants to go back to those days. … A testament to society … [is] how we maintain and take care of what’s left to us.  I will be supporting this increase.”
  • Dan Stock:  Before being elected  “my perception was that things happened behind closed doors. … it was almost disappointing … the work happens in our committees.”

All 12 members of Overland Park City Council speak in favor of property tax increase
Approximate locations (minutes:seconds) in video of speeches by various council members:

0:00 Terry Goodman

2:34 Paul Lyons

4:28 Donna Owens

6:52 David White

10:06 Dave Janson

10:51 Terry Happer Scheier

11:33 Fred Spears

13:34 Curt Skoog

13:55 Jim Hix

15:51 Richard Collins

17:03 John Skubal

17:34 Dan Stock

Mayor Carl Gerlach comments about tax increase; holds council vote

Selected comments from Mayor Gerlach before vote on mill levy increase:

  • “This is my 16th time and 13 times I’ve voted to lower the mill levy.”
  • “I had two major concerns going into this budget:  one was deferred maintenance …  the other issue that really concerned me …  investment now or it’s a huge investment in the future …”
  • “We don’t get the choice of having hindsight right now to make this decision.”

 

Tax money to fund soccer complex

In her remarks Councilwoman Donna Owens clarified information given at the public hearing on Aug. 1 about whether or not city tax dollars were paying for the soccer complex. Owens said the response from the hearing was that “it was paid by the guest tax and there was no money from the general fund.”

But Owens said the guest tax was “not adequate”  and that “money that is returned to the city for various purposes is being used to some extent for the soccer complex to the tune of about a little over 2 million dollars over a number of years.  Through that enterprise zone there is money being diverted. ”

Opposition to Property Tax Increase

Kansas Watchdog interviewed three people opposed to the property tax increase after the vote:

Janmarie Hornack had several issues with the council:

Hornback thought some cost savings were possible and was irritated by the expense of mailing all residents a quarterly newsletter, since she thought many could receive it by email.

Hornback said she could afford the tax increase but knew people in her neighborhood who could not.

“I’m here for the citizens of Overland Park who can’t afford this.  Somebody has to speak up for those people.  I’m not against pools and parks, but when somebody doesn’t even have the money for their medication as a senior citizen … I mind raising the mill levy … For some people this is a matter of what they are going to eat, or what medicine they’re going to take. ”

Hornback was not happy that she had not been allowed to pass out a letter in the council chambers before the meeting.  She claimed that it was her constitutional right to pass out such flyers.  [See video at 2:43 below to see her being told to stop her comments at the beginning of the council meeting. ]

Philip Klein, Leawood, who described himself as an activist, was concerned about bonds:  “What I think they’re doing is … hiding the redevelopment bonds … I’m going to look into this.”

Jim Mullins, Lawrence, who represents AFP-Kansas, said he had studied the Overland Park budget.  Mullins had concerns about the high percentage for the sales and use taxes in the budget.  Mullins said 45 percent of the general fund came from sales taxes.

Mullins was skeptical about the reported number in the reduction of employees and thought some positions might be “vacancy credits” — positions listed in the budget that are never hired.

Mullins said he would like to ask the city why a 10 percent reduction in the $76 million budget for personnel was not possible.  “That’s a real easy number to do.  People say you can’t do that to your employees.  Well, you can.  It’s been done all over the country.”

 

“Push Polling”?

In his comments Councilman Terry Goodman (2:13 in video) said he was voting for the measure “in spite of the efforts of some to utilize push polling, half-truths, and political hyperbole to argue against all tax increases regardless of where, when, why or how much.  I’m firmly convinced that these folks would claim victory while they stood by and watched Rome burn instead of providing adequate funding for the fire department.”

Later Councilman Fred Spears (12:20 in video)  said “I don’t know if it was a ‘push poll’ or not.  I looked at the questions. I could interpret them in a variety of different ways. But I’ve found that any legislative individual or body that operates by opinion poll generally is pretty ineffective.  If we look at the 300 or 400 people that participated in that poll, and the percentages there, that’s a pretty small population.  I’m going to have to say  I probably talked to half that many people and the responses were the opposite of what we saw there.  I”m not sure which opinion poll to believe. ”

According to the Kansas Secretary of State’s web site on June 8, 2011 former Kansas legislator Ben Hodgestarted a Kansas not-for-profit corporation, State and Local Reform Educational Foundation of Kansas, Inc..  This organization did the polling talked about by Goodman and Spears.

Kansas Watchdog asked Hodge for brief comments about his poll.

According to Hodge some of the key findings from his study included:

  • To balance Overland Park’s budget, 67 percent of likely 2012 voters prefer spending cuts. Twenty-three percent prefer tax increases, and 10 percent are undecided.
  • Making cuts to city services is acceptable to 55 percent of voters, unacceptable to 34 percent of voters, and 11 percent are undecided.

We covered many topics in the 31-question poll, but the main purpose of the poll was indeed to measure the support or opposition to this property tax increase. …  Read about our methodology at the bottom of ourresults page.

I don’t expect that Overland Park City Council members will like the results of our poll, but that’s not the fault of polling but rather the nature of their significant disagreement with the public at large. Our polling indicates that there is strong opposition to not only the tax increase, but the manner in which the Overland Park City Council handled the tax increase.


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Contact: Earl F Glynn, earl@kansaswatchdog.org, KansasWatchdog.org


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