The next mayor of Shawnee will have many issues to deal with: Bringing new business to the city’s topographically challenged west, redeveloping older areas and keeping up with street repairs, to name a few.
Four candidates, including three city council members and a former county commissioner, have volunteered to take all that on when Mayor Jeff Meyers steps down in April. Two of them will emerge from the March 3 primary to face each other in the general election.
The primary candidates are council members Michelle Distler, Jeff Vaught and Dan Pflumm and former councilman and commissioner John Segale.
Whomever the voters choose will lead the council on how or whether to give tax incentives for new development and pay for street repair. In the past year, the council has dealt with questions over incentives for Shawnee Landing shopping center near Interstate 435, redevelopment of the Westbrooke Village Shopping Center just north of 75th Street and Quivira Road and how best to catch up on street maintenance. The voters recently approved a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase to fund road repairs. The council has also debated whether a moratorium on the city’s excise tax — a tax charged to developers — should be temporary or permanent.
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Distler said a transparent and accountable city government would be among her top priorities. Development incentives should be looked at individually to try to meet needs of the developer without exposing the taxpayers, she said.
“I have consistently looked at every project brought before us on its own merit. …versus voting yes to everything brought before us,” she said in an email.
In the Shawnee Landing development, for instance, the city agreed to front developer costs for building a sewer system and will eventually use special taxing districts for infrastructure. She said city support for such things as streets and sewers is appropriate, but she doesn’t support some of the types of public-private partnerships seen in other cities that could put the city on the hook if they fail.
For redevelopment, she said the city should consider writing new rules that punish developers for leaving property vacant, as has happened with Westbrooke Center. Most of the center’s space has been vacant since 2011.
Distler also said she would keep the excise tax moratorium temporary, in case the city needs it again down the road. State law prohibits the city from reinstating it again if it is abolished altogether.
The amount of sales tax increase needed for street repair might have been less if the city had devoted more of the impact fee charged on the landfill operators to roads years ago, she said. But she is fine with the current policy that revenue from the impact fee is split 50-50 between roads and economic development.
Pflumm, also a current council member, said roads and redevelopment will be two of his top issues as well. The city fell behind on roads during the recession, and now needs to catch up with curb and gutter repair, he said.
If elected mayor, Pflumm said he would make a special effort to see that money for street repair doesn’t get diverted into other city operating budgets, as he said it did in 2009. He said he has no problem with the allocation of money from the impact fee.
The city was right to help with costs for Shawnee Landing, he said, because the site for that development needs much preparation to get it ready for building. The excise tax shouldn’t be brought back because it would discourage development, he said, but it shouldn’t be abolished completely in case circumstances change and the city needs it again.
Pflumm said the city needs to do a much better job marketing itself for redevelopment in some empty spaces. He said he would like to market the area around the recently vacated Perceptive Software building as a bioscience hub, for instance. He also said he would work with developers to bring Westbrooke and the former Aztec Theater downtown back to life.
If elected, he said, he would continue to keep taxes down. “I’ve been on the council 13 years and I’ve never voted for a tax increase,” he said.
Vaught also mentioned street repair and redevelopment as priorities. He said he would make creative use of a variety of funding options for projects that would be good for the city.
For instance, he said he would like to see STAR bonds put to use in downtown Shawnee to make Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City into a $15 million regional children’s museum. Sales tax revenue bonds can be used to finance significant tourism and entertainment developments.
He is also considering whether the economic development fund could be use to buy, rehab and re-sell some older and less-expensive homes. When they’re sold, he said, deed restrictions could be placed on them to keep them from becoming rentals. That restriction would keep property values from declining again, he said.
The Westbrooke center is minimally viable as a retail center, but might be better suited as a vocational-technical training center for the Shawnee Mission School District or Johnson County Community College, he said.
Tax incentives and special districts to bring in new development are a necessary evil, Vaught said, because Shawnee must still compete with neighboring cities that offer them. “Unfortunately this is the world we live in,” he said. “If we don’t (give incentives) nothing comes to Shawnee.”
He said the excise tax moratorium has worked well in getting new development and he would support ending the tax completely. He also said the impact fee split between roads and economic development serves the city well.
Segale is the only candidate not currently on the council. He said all taxpayers would pay less if the city stopped economic incentives to developers and what he called “special interests.”
One of Segale’s top priorities is to return at least $1 million to taxpayers and to get rid of the 5 percent tax imposed on gas and electric bills in 2010. Bringing back the excise tax would be one way to pay for that, he said, adding that there is no evidence that the excise tax discourages development. Other cities in the area that have the tax still have development, he said.
Segale doesn’t support the Shawnee Landing incentives either, saying that development likely would have come to that area without it, judging by the price of the land. The city would be better advised to enhance Kansas 7 as a way to attract developers, he said.
But incentives could be appropriate for areas that have fallen into decline, as happened with the Westbrooke Village Shopping Center, he said. He didn’t agree with the council’s decision last year to pay a third party to broker redevelopment there. (When that effort failed, the city was out $25,000). That shopping center might be re-imagined as a “little downtown,” with mixed use that includes office space and some retail, he said.
The division of revenue from the impact fee also should emphasize roads, he said. “Why should there be anything on economic development?” he said. “Roads are economic development.”
In addition, Segale said he would create an advisory council to get input on the needs of senior citizens.
Education: Bachelor’s in organization management and leadership, Friends University, 2001; master’s in human resource development and organizational development, Friends University, 2003
Occupation: Publications director/emergency manager, Grace Christian Fellowship
Elected experience: Shawnee City Council, 2006-present
Education: Bachelor’s in engineering, University of Kansas, 1985; associate’s in arts, Johnson County Community College, 1984
Occupation: President, DanCo Systems Inc.
Elected experience: Shawnee City Council, 2002-present
Education: Bachelor’s in computer science, University of Kansas, 1990
Occupation: Software application specialist, Cerner Corporation
Elected experience: Johnson County Commissioner, 2005-09; Shawnee City Council, 1997-2004
Education: High school graduate
Occupation: President and owner, Vaught Group commercial real estate brokerage
Elected experience: Shawnee City Council, 2010-present