Northeast Joco

Raise taxes or cut spending when Wal-Mart leaves? Roeland Park residents weigh in

Roeland Park council members this week heard from dozens of residents as officials consider major tax hikes or service cuts to meet an expected budget shortfall when Wal-Mart leaves the city in 2015.

Faced with the loss of an estimated $700,000 in sales tax revenue when the store moves to Mission, council members have set an August deadline for picking among three difficult responses: cut city spending and services dramatically, impose a 40 percent hike in the property tax levy or ask voters to boost the city’s sales tax. The city’s general fund is about $6.1 million.

“None of us likes this,” said Roeland Park mayor Joel Marquardt.

And some of the nearly 100 people who turned out for the discussion Tuesday at the Roeland Park Community Center also didn’t like the way the city asked for their input.

Audience members were split into 10 groups to discuss the tax-raising and budget-cutting proposals. Some people thought that unfairly transferred responsibility for balancing the budget from council members to the public.

“They want to make us do their job,” said Roeland Park resident Enrique Espinosa.

The possible property tax hike has received much of the attention. Raising the mill levy as one budget option suggests would add $217 to the tax bill of a $125,000 house.

Boosting the sales tax, which would require voter approval, could increase the city’s overall sales tax to more than 10 percent. That would make it one of the highest in the metro area.

“We’ll lose sales tax revenues when people see how high our sales tax is,” Espinosa said. “They’ll go somewhere else where the sales tax is more palatable.”

Some residents said the best choice would be cuts to spending and services, including the police department, travel and training.

A dozen people at the meeting Tuesday refused to engage in the budget exercise, but others laughed during the exercise and suggested it gave them a better appreciation for the difficulties the city faces.

“It’s a good start,” said Roeland Park resident Bob Palmgren.