Roeland Park residents want more information before they vote on whether or not to add a .35 percent sales tax increase.
By LUKE RANKER
Special to The Star
About 30 people showed up to the second of two public meetings Wednesday night at the Roeland Park Community Center. Opinions on the tax were still split. As the crowd split into small groups it was clear some agreed it was necessary to fill a hole in city income that will be left once Wal-Mart moves to Mission. Others said there had to be other alternatives. With the deadline to return ballots drawing near — Dec 10 by noon — most people at the meeting just wanted more information.
The five-year sales tax is expected to raise $288,000 annually. Together with a property tax already approved by the city and some cutbacks in spending, the sales tax should recoup part of the $700,000 yearly loss in revenue expected after Wal-Mart moves to the Mission Gateway project in 2015. The city said that loss will hit key budget areas like the general fund, street maintenance and the community center.
Roeland Park resident Tim Parker said voters need more information about the issue. Parker would like the city to disclose what services would be affected by the loss of revenue and what the city plans to do with any excess money gained from the sales tax.
“It (service cuts) might be something we’re OK with losing,” he said.
The city has proposed three uses for the sales tax: emergency funding for infrastructure maintenance, restoring some previously cut services and reducing the mill levy.
If approved, the sales tax would begin April 1 and raise the current base tax rate from 8.625 percent to 8.975. The city would collect about 1.55 percent of that with the rest going to county and state agencies. That rate compares to 8.875 in Fairway and 8.375 in Prairie Village.
Many residents, like Parker, have not made up their minds about the tax yet. They would like the city to explore more money-saving options. The city has already cut funding, city administrator Aaron Otto said, by not filling a vacant deputy chief of police position, doing minor road work instead of long term repairs, reducing funding to community events and exploring deals with other cities like sharing equipment or maintenance costs.
Otto said the city will make more information available at www.roelandpark.net/sales-tax-election/, or by request at City Hall.
While some residents are looking for more answers, others have already voted. Sandra Sanchez has already cast a ballot against the sales tax because, she said, it places an extra burden on struggling residents. Sanchez, who has bills related to breast cancer treatment, said the tax will hurt other families with increased expenses.
“Every time they raise taxes it creates a hardship for me,” she said. “I think it’s unfair to the sick and people on a fixed income.”
Roland Park residents should have received ballots during the week of Nov. 18 and they are due by noon on Dec 10.