It’s a battle of the northeast mayors for the 1st District spot on the Johnson County Commission.
Ron Shaffer, mayor of Prairie Village, and Laura McConwell, former mayor of Mission, are vying in the Nov. 4 general election for the seat left open when Commissioner Ed Peterson decided to run for commission chairman.
The district includes the far northeastern corner of the county and a strip running down the state line to about 143rd Street.
The candidates each pointed to their experience as city leaders in responding to the needs of their older, established communities.
McConwell mentioned the development and street improvements along Martway Street and Johnson Drive as examples of her accomplishments.
Shaffer cited Prairie Village’s low crime rate and reputation for being one of the safest cities in Kansas.
Both candidates were concerned with the best way to use county resources to address the increasing poverty and aging of the county’s population. McConwell said the county needs a long-range plan looking 40 or 50 years ahead to look at ways the services for this group can be delivered the most efficiently.
“You don’t want to get in a situation where you continue to raise and raise taxes,” she said. The county should check for redundancies in social services, for example, McConwell said.
Shaffer, a member of the United Community Services board, said he would like to have the county collaborate with churches, synagogues and private entities to find cost-effective ways to provide the services.
Public transit also is an issue. Neither Shaffer nor McConwell supported bus routes in parts of the county where ridership is low.
But Shaffer said if the transit is done carefully it can attract citizens. The so-called millennials, for example, look for public transportation when deciding where to live. “They’ll move simply because they can get around without a car,” he said.
McConwell said transit is extremely expensive and the county needs to look carefully at a long-range plan. Not all parts of the county are densely populated enough to support it, she said.
Both expressed reservations about the loss of mortgage registration fees, which are being phased out by the Kansas Legislature. Commissioners considered a property tax increase this year to make up the loss, but backed away later, saying they would wait and see whether increased per-page filing fees and growth in home values would make up the difference.
“It seems to me you can’t leave the county flat-footed,” said McConwell. She said the county has done a good job keeping the rate flat even during the recession, when home values declined. But that has meant that some routine maintenance has been left out, she said, and that will have to be addressed later.
Shaffer said asking for a mill levy increase is always difficult, but it cannot be ruled out because the revenue must be made up. “If you lose the income stream you’ve grown accustomed to over 100 years, you have to find other ways to make it up,” he said.
Both candidates said the county needs to move forward on the former King Louie bowling alley. Development of the vacant building has been stalled.
McConwell said the building is in a good location on Metcalf Avenue. She supports getting the community involved in finding uses for it. “It’s just sitting there not doing anybody any good right now,” she said.
Shaffer agreed about the good location, saying he likes the county’s multi-use plan in which the building would house several county offices.
Shaffer also said the county should study the costs and long-term use projections for court facilities and that once the commission decides on a direction, it should be put to a vote. In the meantime, he said he’s not bothered by spending on the repairs to the existing courthouse.
McConwell, however, said constant repair work is not a good use of taxpayer dollars if the county has no long-range plan for the courthouse. She pointed out that separating some court services into other buildings may increase the operating costs because of the number of staff that would have to be added for security.
Education: Bachelor’s in organizational behavior and management, Brown University, 1985; law degree, University of Missouri Kansas City, 1989.
Elected experience: Mission mayor, 2002-2014; Mission City Council, 2000-2002
Education: Bachelor’s in architecture, Kansas State University, 1970
Occupation: Owner RLS Architects
Elected experience: Mayor of Prairie Village, 1999-present; Prairie Village City Council, 1989-99