Roeland Park city officials will begin looking for expense cuts and partnerships with neighboring cities now after a sales tax increase failed at the ballot box for the second time.
By LUKE RANKER
Special to The Star
Roeland Park residents narrowly rejected a .35 percent sales tax increase. The tax failed Tuesday by 41 votes, 791 to 750. That tally may change as election officials collect provisional ballots and review totals.
A larger ¾-cent sales tax increase failed a year ago by a similar margin. Both attempts were meant to make up for a deficit expected when Wal-Mart moves to Mission in two years.
Mayor Joel Marquardt said the next step for the city probably would be to look for ways to partner with neighboring cities to save money. Roeland Park already partners with neighbors on services like waste management, public works and safety to some extent, he said.
“We’ll move forward with finding other means,” he said. “The council’s approach will be to look for anyway we can prepare for when Wal-Mart leaves.”
The vote was no surprise to Councilwoman Becky Fast, who said many of her constituents had concerns about a sales tax increase. Fast voted against both the sales tax and a property tax increase because the combination of both taxes would hurt Roeland Park residents, she said.
“I think people would have been open to one or the other, but not both at the same time,” Fast said.
Constituents in her neighborhood are pleased with services like police, maintenance and trash, but she said they are torn between paying more for those services and their own economic situations.
“I think this demonstrates that people can’t afford even a small tax increase because they’re facing their own burdens,” Fast said.
Linda Mau, a former councilwoman who campaigned against the tax, said it would have hurt the city’s ability to compete with other cities because shopping would be cheaper outside of Roeland Park.
The five-year sales tax was expected to raise $288,000 annually.
Together with a property tax that will take effect Jan. 1 and some cutbacks in spending, the sales tax was expected to recoup part of the $700,000 yearly loss in revenue expected after Wal-Mart moves to the Mission Gateway project in 2015.
The tax would have brought Roeland Park’s tax rate to a range of 8.975 to 9.975.
The city had proposed using the sales tax for emergency funding for infrastructure, restoring services and reducing the mill levy.
City officials are concerned that a new tenant would be able generate the same amount of revenue as the retail giant.
“Few businesses have the same sales per square foot as Wal-Mart,” City Administrator Aaron Otto said at a Dec. 4 public hearing.