The Roeland Park City Council is asking residents to vote on a 0.35-cent sales tax increase in December, but the council has yet to decide on how that money should be spent.
After more than two hours of discussion at a committee of whole meeting Monday night, the council was split on two spending ideas: use the money generated from the sales tax to both decrease the mill levy and boost reserve funds or use that money for reserve funds and to restore previous cuts in the budget.
The council tabled discussion for a later date so City Clerk Debra Mootz could produce more data, including revenue projections beyond 2016 and what budget items have previously been cut.
The 0.35-cent sales tax will appear on a Dec. 10 mail ballot, and the city will hold town hall meetings on Nov. 12 and Dec. 4. Mootz said the increase was originally proposed as means to recoup revenue lost when Walmart moves out of the city in spring 2015. She projected the city would lose as much as $700,000 through 2016. The sales taxes would bring in $288,000 in the 2015 fiscal year.
Roeland Park currently has a base sales tax of 8.635 percent including county and state taxes, a transportation development tax for 9.125 percent at Lowe’s only, a second transportation development tax at the Bella Roe shopping center and a community development tax at the Roeland Park shopping center that are both 9.625, Mootz said.
The council will have to agree on how to use the money to craft ballot language for the December vote. One one side, some members — including Mayor Joel Marquardt, and council members Marek Gliniecki and Robert Meyers, who was not present at the meeting but phoned in — support using the sales tax to lower the mill levy and build reserves. Marquardt suggested using one-third of the revenue to decrease the levy and the other two-thirds for reserve funds that would be used if unforeseen expenditures came up.
“Are we going to be more transparent by dedicating this money to something or do we put in a black hole?” Marquardt said.
Gliniecki said he was concerned that the Walmart location would be vacant for several years and an unforeseen expense, like two costly sinkholes the city currently is dealing with on city right-of-way, would hurt the city’s income.
“Some percentage needs to go to the mill levy and the rest into the reserves,” he said
Council members Teresa Kelly, Sheri McNeil and Megan England expressed caution about dedicating money to lowering the mill levy. With recent sinkhole issues and the loss of Walmart, they fear something may happen in the future that would require additional funds.
“I’d hate to see us lower the levy, then realize we’re not out of the dark and have to raise it,” McNeil said. “We’d be yo-yoing the public.”
England agreed, saying that lowering the mill levy before the city has found a new tenant for the Walmart location could leave them vulnerable.
She would like to see the money used to restore budget cuts in the police department and public works and the rest used for expenses that may arise. Kelly agreed and reminded the council that unlike a mill levy, Roeland Park residents are not the only ones who would pay the sales tax.
“We’d be sharing the burden with people from all over,” she said.
Councilwoman Mel Croston, who originally opposed any sales tax increase, said she was worried the city would save the money now but spend it on something residents didn’t want in the future.
“I think people would be afraid this is just one more way for us to spend their money,” she said.