With a public meeting less than a month away, the City of Merriam continues to make the case for why residents should support the construction of a new community center, which could cost $30 million.
At the Merriam City Council’s regular meeting March 27, City Administrator Chris Engel did some serious number-crunching, comparing Merriam with its Johnson County neighbor cities.
His conclusion? Even with a quarter-cent sales tax bump to make the proposed center, shoppers are still likely to pay less sales tax in Merriam than in most other places in the county.
“I believe the City of Merriam has the capacity to have a quarter-cent sales tax and not scare people off,” Engel said. “I don’t believe this puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”
Adding the quarter-cent would increase Merriam’s sales tax rate to 9.48 percent, higher than current rates in Overland Park, Olathe, Kansas City, Kan., and other area cities.
But, Engel pointed out, most of the big shopping districts in those cities have their own sales tax rates thanks to Community Improvement District or Transportation Development District assessments. And almost all of them are higher than the would-be rate in Merriam, which has not used CID or TDD funding to attract businesses.
Engel, Mayor Ken Sissom and other city staff and officials are hoping it’s an argument residents will buy when Merriam hosts its April 25 joint public meeting of the council, the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and the Parks Facilities Steering Committee.
The city has answered the “could” question regarding the community center, which would likely sit on the site that is now home to the Merriam Aquatic Center, Engel said. Merriam voters will have the final say on “should” forthe center, which would likely have an indoor and outdoor pool.
At this point, it’s hard to say when a community vote would take place. But with the city’s budget due in June or July, Engel said the clock is ticking on getting the project approved this year. And with interest rates ticking up and repairs to the aging Aquatic Center and Irene B. French Community Center, which the new center would replace, getting costlier by the year, there’s no time like the present.
“The cost of borrowing is not going down,” Engel said. “The cheapest day to do this was yesterday, and the cheapest day before that was the day before yesterday. If we’re going to do it, now might be the most opportune time.”
Engel said he knows the $30 million price tag will be a big hurdle for some. It’s easily the biggest civic project in recent Merriam history. But, he said, the city has gone through this before at the commercial level — and the results speak for themselves.
“(Merriam) Town Center and Baron (BMW) were painful for the community, but in the final analysis, they transformed those areas of town and created this fertile place that we now have to grow.”