Property tax increase looms on horizon for Shawnee
The Shawnee governing body is seeking an increase in property taxes and stormwater fees, in order to fund a new fire station in western Shawnee and to address the city’s $114 million stormwater crisis, respectively.
At its committee meeting Tuesday evening, the city council, in a vote of four to three, directed staff to include a 1.77 mill levy increase in the city’s upcoming 2017 budget. Councilmen Eric Jenkins, Mike Kemmling and Brandon Kenig were the dissenting votes.
The council also voted, four to three, to double the city’s stormwater fee from $3 to $6 dollars. Council members Jenkins, Kemmling and Stephanie Meyer were the dissenting votes on that issue.
However, neither increase is yet set in stone.
After the requested revisions are made, the council will review the budget again, hold a public hearing, and then vote to adopt it later this summer.
The proposed mill levy increase would result in an increase of $4.05 per month for the average homeowner in Shawnee, City Manager Carol Gonzales estimated.
Those funds would be used to construct and staff a new fire station in western Shawnee, totaling around $4 million.
The stormwater fee funds raised would go toward repairing and replacing dozens of miles of deteriorated stormwater piping.
The decision to seek an increase in taxes and fees rocked the council’s boat, with Jenkins and Councilman Jeff Vaught, in particular, going head-to-head with opposing views.
Jenkins was adamantly opposed to both increases.
“I think if we raise taxes, we’re putting an unfair hardship on Shawnee families,” he told the rest of the council.
Although he voted against including a mill levy increase in the budget, Jenkins emphasized he is not against building a fire station in western Shawnee.
He believes cuts should have been made to the city’s basic budget of $72 million in order to fund the station, rather than through a tax increase.
Vaught disagreed. He told Jenkins the 2017 budget, without a mill levy increase, met the city’s basic needs and making cuts would be detrimental. He said that while he didn’t like the idea of raising taxes either, he felt it was necessary for the city’s vitality and growth.
“We are the fourth-lowest mill levy in Johnson County,” Vaught said. “It’s great to say you’re proud of it, but if your city is suffering because of it, it’s not something to be proud of. We’re the third largest city in the county and seventh largest city in the state and yet we’re approaching this as if we’re some Third World country. It seems it’s not 'good starts here' with some of us, it's 'good enough starts here.'”
Vaught went on to say he wished the city had a clearer vision of its future. Other cities, such as Olathe and Overland Park, are thriving with multiple million-dollar projects going on at once, but Shawnee is not, Vaught argued. Instead, the city has numerous unmet needs, such as its aging stormwater system in disarray and Nieman Road corridor being in shambles, he said.
“We should be incredibly fast-growing, but we’re not,” Vaught said. “And it’s because for years and years and years, Shawnee has just wanted to be a residential bedroom community and that has stuck. We don’t want to pay any more taxes. We just want cheap, cheap, cheap, let’s just get by. And for years, that’s all we’ve done is get by.”
Kenig, while he voted against the mill levy increase, agreed if a city isn’t willing to invest in itself, there wouldn’t be business growth. He didn’t think cuts to the city’s core 2017 budget were appropriate. He did agree the city’s stormwater problem needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“I don't think it's realistic to expect no increase at all in the budget based on our growth as a city,” Kenig said. “There's expectations from our residents to provide core services and improve our infrastructure. There should be a reasonable increase.”
Council President Meyer told Jenkins she wasn’t crazy about raising property taxes either, but she didn’t see any room in the budget to fund the new fire station without a mill levy increase. And a new fire station was an absolute must-have for the western part of the city, she insisted.
“I can’t imagine being in the position of telling one of my neighbors your house is going to be burnt to the ground or your child is going to die inside that house because we don’t feel that’s a need,” she said.
At the meeting, the council also voted to expedite several Nieman Road corridor stormwater and street projects into the budget, but funding will be discussed at a later time.
On July 11, the council will review the revised budget and have the opportunity to make further changes.
On July 25, it will hold a public hearing on the budget.
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