Shawnee Dispatch

Council will consider tax increase as priorities in the city rise

June 10, 2016

The city council will contemplate raising the city’s mill levy as it reviews the 2017 city budget this summer.

City Manager Carol Gonzales recently presented the governing body with a $72 million budget for next year, which does not include a mill levy increase.

While the amount covers the basics, it barely meets the city’s needs, she told the Shawnee Dispatch earlier this month.

Like many other cities, Shawnee has not fully recovered from the recession, she pointed out. Also, with more and more people buying items online, sales taxes have been plateauing nationwide, she added.

More pressingly, the city is currently undergoing a stormwater system crisis, with more than $114 million worth of aging and deteriorating pipes needing replacement or repairs in the next 20 years.

Plus, the city has numerous unmet needs in each department.

“Mills don't go very far and there are a lot of priorities,” Gonzales told the council at its committee meeting Tuesday evening.

Shawnee’s current property tax rate is 24.5 mills, which is among the five lowest rates in Johnson County. The city has not increased the mill levy since 2006.

On Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for each city department revealed to the council its current projects and unmet needs.

Shawnee Police Chief Rob Moser said the police department is working towards constructing an outdoor firearms range and implementing body-worn cameras.

It is also implementing the Mental Health Co-Responder program, in partnership with Lenexa, this summer.

He said the biggest unmet need for his department was more police officers.

Since January of 2014, the department has lost 26 officers, due to retirements or people realizing the field wasn’t for them, he told the council.

In the last six years, the city has grown by around 3,000 new residents.

“It’s my opinion as our police chief that if the city continues to grow, we need a police department that grows right along with it,” Moser said.

The city’s growth is also affecting the fire department.

Fire Chief John Mattox said that in the last 15 years, the EMS call volume has doubled, making one of the department’s biggest unmet needs being an EMS chief, who can manage the program. The cost for an EMS chief is estimated at $183,600.

The fire department is also in need of a new fire station in western Shawnee, which could cost $3.6 million, plus an additional $1 million for staff. The department also hopes to significantly renovate Fire Station 71, which could cost around $4 million.

In addition to the massive stormwater improvements, the public works department has many other projects already underway, said Public Works director Doug Whitacre.

The department plans to develop a traffic master plan to address issues, such as congestion, intersection safety, and traffic signal replacements.

It also plans to implement LED street lights.

One of its key initiatives is to administer its 2016 street maintenance program.

Projects coming up for the Parks & Recreation department include designing a West Flanders World War I interpretive sign and poppy layout for an outdoor exhibit, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into the war.

It is also working on a corridor study for landscape plans for the Shawnee Mission Parkway Beautification.

“It (Shawnee Mission Parkway) is the entryway to our city,” said Neil Holman, director of Parks & Recreation. “To have a nice corridor as you come into our city and go through our city would be a nice addition.”

The department also still has its eye on building a new community center out west, which could cost an estimated $35 million.

Talks about a community center have been going on for years, Holman said.

He added that the city continually receives numerous calls about residents wanting one.

A few council members mentioned they also have been receiving similar calls.

“I strongly believe it's time to reconsider the community center,” said Council President Stephanie Meyer. “I think we have an opportunity to do something for the folks out west.”

At the end of the meeting, Gonzales gave the council a worksheet to calculate raising the mill levy by certain amounts.

“I know it’s hard to talk about a tax increase, so we want to provide you with as much information as you need,” she told the council. “It’s an important factor to consider as we think about how many needs we have.”

The next budget meeting for the council is scheduled for June 21.

Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2016/jun/10/council-will-consider-tax-increase-priorities-city/