Mayor Mark Holland promised Tuesday to push this summer for another property tax decrease for Kansas City, Kan., residents — a cut that would bring the city’s portion of property tax bills to its lowest level in at least five decades.
In a wide-ranging state of the government address Tuesday, Holland also praised how far Wyandotte County has come since city and county governments consolidated nearly 20 years ago. He touted strong economic development, 11,000 new jobs in four years, a record-low 5.7 percent unemployment rate and a Unified Government effort to keep spending in check.
But many challenges remain — including blight, poverty and mental health needs —that call for collaboration, he said in an hour-long speech to several hundred people at the Downtown Kansas City, Kan., Rotary Club luncheon at the Jack Reardon Convention Center.
“I want to invite everyone in this room to join me in advocating for the least, the last and the lost,” Holland said. Any community that doesn’t care for those groups “isn’t a community at all,” he added.
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The city property tax rate dropped two mills last year. Holland promised to push for another two-mill drop, roughly 5 percent. City residents also pay property taxes for county services, schools and other taxing jurisdictions.
Holland credited previous government leaders who sparked Wyandotte County’s turnaround 20 years ago. Thanks to them, Wyandotte County has become the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, he said. And because the momentum continues to build, more assets are coming this year, he said, including the arrival of the American Royal; the construction of an Amazon distribution warehouse that expects to employ 1,500 people; and a new soccer training center expected to add about $4 million a year in the county’s economy.
He also touted a “booming” General Motors plant, the University of Kansas Medical Center expansion and the razing of the old Indian Springs shopping mall. And he praised the Unified Government for settling union contracts, replacing the entire police patrol car fleet, buying nine new fire apparatus trucks and replacing all 16 ambulances.
Yet blight and poverty continue to plague many neighborhoods, he said. That blight includes 6,000 vacant lots and 3,500 abandoned houses.
Unemployment remains too high for minorities. Possible changes to the Affordable Care Act could harm thousands of county residents who depend on that health care program.
Another challenge: 25 percent of Unified Government employees are eligible to retire in the next seven years. They include 90 firefighters and about 130 police officers.
“We need to be recruiting right now,” said Holland, whose four-year term expires this year.
So far, one candidate has filed to challenge Holland’s run for re-election: David Alvey, an at-large director on the Board of Public Utilities. The filing deadline is June 1.