City maintenance is a big issue facing many Johnson County voters this fall.
Olathe, Leawood and Shawnee all have sales tax renewals on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. Shawnee has a new sales tax on the ballot as well.
In Olathe, voters must decide whether to renew the city’s 1/8-cent park sales tax.
The tax was first approved in 1999 and renewed for 10 years in 2004. Ever since, it has helped develop and enhance the city’s parks and trail system. It also played an instrumental role in the city’s new community center, which opened this summer.
Never miss a local story.
If renewed Nov. 4, the tax will go toward the repair of trail systems and playgrounds and renovations of athletic fields and parks, said Michael Meadors, parks and recreation director.
“Our trail system in particular is one of the most popular amenities in Olathe,” he said. “We need to bring them up to the level Olathe citizens have grown to expect. There is a lot that needs to be done.”
If the tax is not renewed, the parks and recreation department would have to re-evaluate its priorities.
For example, Meadors said, if certain playgrounds no longer meet the city’s safety standards and there isn’t enough funding to replace them, they might be removed. Or, if there are athletic fields needing lights repaired, the city might consider converting the fields to day-use only.
“It would be difficult, but if that’s what Olathe citizens desire, we would just have to roll up our sleeves and be creative,” he said.
The renewal has a slight change this year: A small portion of the tax may be used to support smaller library projects if the need arises.
“Times are changing — more and more people are reading books on Kindles,” Meadors said. “As the library requires newer technology, they need the funding to keep up. This might very well enable the library to do something they might not have been able to do otherwise.”
In Leawood, voters are being asked to renew the city’s one-eighth sales tax, which will fund street improvements and stormwater repairs.
The tax was initially approved in 1999, with renewals occurring in 2004 and 2009. Since its implementation, the tax has allowed more than $5 million to be spent on the city’s residential mill and overlay program, said Scott Lambers, city administrator. During that same time, more than $5 million was also used on storm sewer projects throughout the city as well.
Like Olathe, if the tax does not get renewed, the city would have to reprioritize.
“Projects may have to be pushed back or even eliminated, especially on the stormwater side,” said Joe Johnson, the Leawood public works director. “We might also have to cut other programs to make up for the loss.”
Shawnee has a renewal and a new sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The renewal, known as the “Parks and Pipes” tax, is a 1/8-cent sales tax used for building and improving parks and trails in the city, as well as improvements to its stormwater drainage system. Voters first approved the tax in 2000 and it was renewed in 2004.
Over the past 10 years, revenue from the tax has funded 11 parks and trails projects, as well as 19 stormwater projects.
The city also is asking voters to consider a 3/8-cent sales tax to be used to fund street maintenance and improvements.
The city is responsible for maintaining 780 lane miles of streets, which requires around $7 million per year, said Dan Ferguson, the city’s communications manager. Currently, there is about $4 million a year available in the city’s budget for street maintenance, creating an ongoing annual funding gap of $3 million per year, he said.
If passed, the tax will pay for mill and overlay, constructing curbs and sidewalks in neighborhoods that don’t have them, and upgrading the surface of 27 lane miles of streets that are currently chip-sealed.
As Shawnee and other Johnson County cities grow older, the need to keep up with maintenance is critical, city officials said.
“Taking care of infrastructure is important for public safety and the economy,” said Shawnee Mayor Jeff Meyers. “We just want to make our community one we can be proud of.”