Olathe & Southwest Joco

Amid reconstruction surge, Prairie Village looks at adding to public works staff

The decade-long trend toward complete teardowns and rebuilds in Prairie Village, including this new home under construction at 3308 W. 71st St. from 2007, has taxed the city’s infrastructure and led the city council to consider hiring a full-time stormwater engineer.
The decade-long trend toward complete teardowns and rebuilds in Prairie Village, including this new home under construction at 3308 W. 71st St. from 2007, has taxed the city’s infrastructure and led the city council to consider hiring a full-time stormwater engineer. File photo

The ongoing surge of homeowners replacing houses in Prairie Village with larger structures is pushing city leaders to dedicate more resources to dealing with how those buildings affect nearby drainage.

The City Council on Monday took the first step to add a stormwater engineer to the public works department at an estimated cost of $110,000 a year. The engineer will essentially replace a part-time consulting engineer the city contracted with last fall to do the work for the same amount.

Council members will hold a final vote on the plan at their April 16 meeting.

Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft said the increase in home reconstruction, as well as ongoing efforts to control flooding in some parts of the city and rebuild its stormwater control system, made hiring a full-time in-house stormwater expert a necessity.

Bredehoeft said that he and senior project manager Melissa Prenger handled most stormwater projects before bringing in the consultant this year. That was in addition to overseeing the public works department, which handles everything from park maintenance to snow removal.

“We’ve been talking for a number of years about the idea of managing our workload,” Bredehoeft told the council. “I think with the recent rebuilds and impact of that we’ve put on our staff we think now is the right time to move to the next level with this position.”

Like many older neighborhoods in northeast Johnson County, Prairie Village has seen an influx of people tearing down older homes and replacing them with modern, larger homes. Each requires a drainage permit, which the city must review. The city currently is managing 132 active drainage permits, 76 of which are for new homes.

Councilwoman Brooke Morehead expressed concerns about the plan, saying she opposed adding new employees for what could be a temporary problem.

“My concern is that if we didn’t have it in the past, how far in the future are we going to continue to need it?” Morehead said. “When it’s a contract, you can eliminate that need. In five years, if we don’t need that, we have an employee.”

Bredehoeft replied that having the new employee take over managing the stormwater projects would help him run the department more efficiently and that there is plenty for the person to do.

“I am 100 percent confident this will be a resource that will be fully utilized on into the future,” he said.

Prairie Village, with a population of more than 21,000, had approximately 132 positions budgeted this year, an increase of three from 2017. Public works has the second highest amount with 29.

The new position would be funded through the stormwater utility fee, a special assessment that property owners have paid on their property tax bill since 2009 that can only go to stormwater uses. Currently, the fee is 4 cents per square foot of impervious area on the owner’s property and generates $1.6 million a year.

In other business, City Attorney Catherine Logan announced she is retiring and will step down as the council’s legal adviser after about a decade.

Mayor Laura Wassmer said she plans to recommend that David Waters, an attorney who has filled in for Logan in the past, take over as city attorney. Waters is also a city councilman in Westwood.

David Twiddy: dtwiddy913@gmail.com

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