It’s all about Overland Park in the contest for the 4th District seat on the County Commission: Unlike the other commission seats, the 4th District exists entirely within the bounds of one city.
Overland Park City Councilman Curt Skoog is challenging incumbent Jason Osterhaus in the Nov. 4 general election for a spot on the county’s top governmental body. Osterhaus is nearing the end of his first term.
The 4th District is made up of an area in the central eastern part of the county, roughly between 75th and 135th Streets and Mission and Pflumm roads.
Skoog said the County Commission could take a lesson from the long-range planning strategies of Overland Park as it sets a course for the county into the future. Strategic planning has brought about renewed development of the Metcalf corridor, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead and the Overland Park Soccer Complex, Skoog said.
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Osterhaus, meanwhile, said he would continue to emphasize quality-of-life issues, such as parks, libraries, investment in roads and good zoning to make sure the county continues to be an attractive place to live.
Undeveloped park land has been a perennial campaign issue. The county bought some tracts, most notably Big Bull Creek, years ago but has yet to develop them into useable parks. The problem is that once parks are developed, it takes continuing money to keep them maintained and patrolled.
Both candidates said they would be willing to consider an increase in the tax levy dedicated to parks if it has public support. “If they bring something forward that’s reasonable I don’t see any reason why not to support it,” Osterhaus said.
Skoog said any proposal should serve the needs of the community and should be efficiently spent.
The two candidates differed in their approach to the loss of the mortgage registration fee revenue. This spring the commission proposed a mill levy increase to make up for the money the county will lose when the mortgage registration fee is phased out. The Kansas Legislature decided during the last session to do away with the fee.
Eventually, after pressure from the Johnson County legislative delegation, the commission backed away from the tax increase.
Osterhaus said that projected growth in home values and sales tax will cushion the county, making a tax increase unnecessary. Since the number of new mortgages fluctuates, he said, and because the fee is only a small part of the county’s funding source, he was not bothered by reports that the amount coming in this year is shy of expectations even before the phase-out begins.
Skoog, however, was concerned that income from the per-page filing fees may not live up to the lawmakers’ projections. He said he would first examine whether the county is operating efficiently before considering a tax increase. “There are lots of opportunities for efficiencies in government that come from rethinking how services are offered,” Skoog said.
One example, Skoog said, is the multiple county fire districts with their own chiefs.
The two differed on the question of what to do about the space and physical deficiencies of the county courthouse. Commissioners recently voted to make repairs to the roof and exterior stonework of the building. But some have suggested it’s time to consider a new building or at least a new addition.
Osterhaus said he would prefer a plan that is smaller in scope, perhaps moving certain court functions to other buildings.
Skoog said he would defer to experts like judges and law enforcement officials on how the courthouse can be improved.
“My guess is we don’t have a bunch of buildings sitting around we can just move people to. At least I hope we don’t,” Skoog said.
Commissioners also will have to decide on a plan for the former King Louie bowling alley on Metcalf Avenue. The county bought that building and put money into repairs to stabilize it, but has stalled on the final step of spending money to redevelop it into office and museum space.
Skoog said the building’s location in the Metcalf corridor makes it important to Overland Park. The building is the perfect place to relocate the county museum, he said. He criticized Osterhaus for voting to buy the building but not to finish it, without any explanation of his vote.
“You lost some respect when he doesn’t explain why he voted a certain way on a topic that is smack dab in the middle of the district,” Skoog said.
Osterhaus said he would like to see some kind of public/private partnership to develop the building.
“My decision to vote against the King Louie property was a financial one,” Osterhaus said. “… The county commissioners made the decision not to raise the mill levy. During the recession we had to prioritize what we spent money on and make fiscally responsible budget decisions. These decisions allowed us to fully support our core services like parks and libraries.”
Education: Bachelor’s in communication, Park University, 1999
Occupation: Johnson County commissioner
Elected experience: Johnson County Commission, 2011-present
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, University of Kansas, 1985
Occupation: Independent consultant
Elected experience: Overland Park City Council, 2005-present