Olathe park sales tax renewal goes to voters

08/07/2014 11:52 AM

08/07/2014 11:52 AM

Olathe voters will decide in November whether to renew the city’s 1/8 cent park sales tax for the next 10 years.

The Olathe City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to place the question on the Nov. 4 ballot. Opposed were Mayor Michael Copeland and Councilman Ron Ryckman.

Copeland said he wasn’t ready to move forward with the action. He said he had not had time to digest all of the information provided in relation to the tax.

Ryckman said there were other options for funding parks and recreation.

Other council members favored letting citizens decide the fate of the tax.

“If they (voters) see it as a good value we will continue investing in our future,” Councilman Wes McCoy said. “We’re at a point where we see the finish line but we need to keep running to finish the race.”

Councilman John Bacon, who voted in favor of the action, said that whether the sales tax passed or failed, the city’s parks would be taken care of. “It might be at a different level,” he added.

In 2004 the sales tax was renewed by voters for 10 years. The tax was in effect five years prior to that. The current tax expires at the end of March 2015.

If approved, 63 percent of the tax monies would go toward building new facilities, 21 percent would be used to repair the city’s walking and biking trail system and make repairs to aging parks and sports fields and 16 percent would be used to provide enhancements.

Included would be completing the final phases of Lone Elm Park and Stagecoach Park, adding 10 miles of trail connections to the 17 existing miles of trails and green space and renovating older parks, including Prairie Center, Black Bob, Lake Olathe, Cedar Lake and Oregon Trail.

An independent survey conducted in May indicated the majority of voters would renew the tax for another 10 years. Sixty-two percent favored maintaining and repairing existing parks and 44 percent indicated support for building parks in new areas that don’t have them. Fifty percent favored connecting existing trails.

On Tuesday night the council also approved a resolution issuing $9.3 million in industrial revenue bonds for renovation of the former Benchmark showroom and distribution facility at 2125 E. Kansas City Road.

Furniture Mall of Kansas has a contract to buy the 161,000-square-foot building. Bonds will be used to cover purchase and remodeling costs. The company has stores in Topeka and Lawrence.

A partnership led by the Winter family is leading the project, which would have about 155 employees, according to the bond application. The Winter family has been in the furniture business since the early 1930s, according to the company’s website.

Benchmark, one of the nation’s largest furniture stores, went out of business about eight years ago, in part, because of competition from the Nebraska Furniture Mart megastore that had opened near the Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County.

The former Benchmart complex consists of three buildings. One was sold in 2006. NorthPoint Development, based in Riverside, bought the two other buildings early this year: the north building and a vacant 240,000-square-foot former furniture showroom building on the south side of the property.

The council also held a budget hearing on the 2015 budget, which is scheduled to be approved on Aug. 19. No citizens addressed the budget.

The proposed 2015 budget calls for a 4.7 increase in water rates and a 7.9 percent increase in sewer rates. Citizens would see a $4 increase in their bills monthly. The increases would pay for capital maintenance projects.

The 2015 proposed general fund operating budget tentatively sits at $83.4 million, which is nearly a 5 percent increase from the 2014 budget of $79.4 million.

No mill levy increased is proposed and there aren’t many significant changes or new programs; however the budget’s main focus is maintaining the city’s aging infrastructure. Street improvements are a top priority.

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