Opinions were split Tuesday night on whether Roeland Park should add .35 percent to its sales tax to make up for the huge hole Wal-Mart will leave in its budget.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
Some of around 28 people who showed up to the first town hall meeting on the question were clearly against it. A few were in favor.
But mostly the people who broke into small groups were just looking for information on the ballot issue, which will start hitting mailboxes next week. The deadline for returning the ballots is noon, Dec. 10.
The five-year sales tax would be expected to raise about $288,000 per year but it would only partially cover the projected $700,000 yearly loss in revenue expected after the retailer leaves in 2015. Wal-Mart will open a new store a few blocks south in the Mission Gateway project.
The rest of that amount is expected to be covered by a recently-approved property tax increase that becomes effective in January, and by some cutbacks in city services.
In the meantime, the City Council has adopted a priorities list to guide spending the sales tax revenue. Emergency infrastructure repair made the top of the list, inspired by the recent collapse of a corrugated pipe that caused a sink hole. After emergency repairs comes street repair, restoring service cuts and reducing the mill levy, which was has increased by 26.5, percent according to city officials. Critics have maintained that the mill levy increase was actually closer to 34 percent over last year.
Mostly, the town hall was quiet and informational as residents were asked to list the pros and cons of the sales tax. Some were concerned that the city hasn’t tried hard enough to get a replacement in Wal-Mart’s old building. However, Councilwoman Jennifer Gunby said it’s difficult to get anyone to commit to that space until Wal-Mart officially lets it go.
Some at the meeting thought it was too early to initiate a new tax because Wal-Mart has not officially announced it is leaving. Others mentioned the regressive nature of sales tax, and that it may hurt shoppers and the city’s remaining retailers, including Price Chopper.
City administrator Aaron Otto said that about a third of the sales tax collected in Roeland Park comes from non-residents.
If the sales tax is approved, it would bring the tax rate to 8.975 to 9.975, with the city collecting 1.55 percent and the rest going to other taxing bodies such as the state and county. The rate varies because Roeland Park has special taxing districts in some parts of the city.
That compares to rates as high as 10 percent in Mission and Overland Park and 9.375 in Prairie Village, Otto said. The new tax would cause a 35-cent increase in a $100 purchase.
But the proposed tax has some vocal opponents. “I will vote against this because I don’t think it’s been thought out and the justification for it is poor,” said Linda Fell, a former councilwoman who attended the town hall meeting.
And Linda Mau, another former councilwoman, has organized a campaign against the issue, complete with yard signs and its own informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Roeland Park Community Center. Mau and other opponents passed out anti-sales tax fliers at the end of the town hall meeting, and will have them available at the Roeland Park Price Chopper.
“I am so not for this tax,” Mau said during the group discussion, adding that county funds are available to fund most of the road repairs. “I believe we are putting the cart before the horse.”
If enacted, the sales tax would begin April 1, 2014. The city will hold one other town hall meeting on the subject at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Roeland Park Community Center, 4850 Rosewood Drive.