It’s been 10 years since Shawnee increased property taxes , but it must be done now to fund needs like a new fire station, more police, street repairs and storm sewers, some city officials said at Monday night’s Council meeting.
“We’ve been doing more with less for a long time,” Council member Jim Neighbor said. “Now we need to do more with more, to provide the services that the citizens of Shawnee need and deserve.”
Neighbor proposed setting the city’s mill levy at a maximum of 26.976 for next year, an increase of 2.44 mills.
That amounts to an average increase in city taxes of about $8.60 per month per home.
The tax increase and the budget it will fund are to be discussed during a public hearing set for the next council meeting on July 25. It’s likely that a vote will be taken at the meeting, City Manager Carol Gonzales said, because the budget must pass by Aug. 25.
Any tax increase would take effect Jan. 1
Neighbor cited several factors in moving for discussion of the mill-levy increase —from the annual rate of inflation over the past decade to spending per capita, which is significantly less in Shawnee than in other similar cities in Johnson County. Spending is also less than similar-sized cities in the Midwest, he said.
Neighbor said Shawnee citizens are prepared to pay more for services, citing the overwhelming passage last year of sales tax increases or extensions to pay for “parks and pipes” and pavement improvements .
“It’s our job to explain why these are needs,” Neighbor said.
Not everyone on the Council, though, agreed with the budget proposed by city staff. Council Member Eric Jenkins said he had “a problem with the whole paradigm.”
“The fire station and police need to be in the basic budget, and not in the unmet needs” category, Jenkins said. “This budget has it backwards.” He referred to the proposed budget as “a bait and switch operation” and “a bill of goods.”
Mayor Michelle Distler spoke in favor of the mill-levy increase.
“I have not been supportive of tax increases in my 10 years on the Council,” she said. But she said she had “looked at every single item” in the proposed budget and agreed that they were needed. She cited the city’s backlog of stormwater improvement requests, some of which have been on the books for nearly five years.
In the end, only Jenkins and Council member Mike Kemmling voted against the proposal to discuss the mill-levy hike on July 25.
Earlier in the evening, the Council approved a proposed expenditure of $1.87 million from the city’s economic development fund to pay for 20 percent to 25 percent of the cost of renovating the B&B Shawnee 18 theater building and the surrounding WestGlen shopping center parking lot.
The theaters opened 21 years ago as the WestGlen 12, when they were owned by the Dickinson Theater chain. Liberty-based B&B bought Dickinson in 2014 and had been in discussion with city officials about a public-private partnership to renovate the property for several months.
The owners will put up $6.4 million for the renovations, including the installation of recliner seats in all auditoriums and both interior and exterior improvements.
B&B agreed to pay the city back over 20 years and to seek to add one or more new restaurants on pad sites in the parking lot.
Money in the economic development fund comes from annual fees paid by Deffenbaugh Industries to operate its nearly 1,000-acre Johnson County landfill within Shawnee’s borders. Houston-based Waste Management Inc. completed its acquisition of Deffenbaugh in 2015. Shawnee devotes half of the landfill-fee money to street maintenance and half to economic development.