Government & Politics

Overland Park residents say city failed to live up to 2008 annexation promises

A contentious Overland Park annexation in 2008 was re-argued at the Johnson County Commission last week,, with disgruntled residents of the area saying the city has not kept its promise to provide adequate police protection, timely snowplowing and other services.

“Most people out there feel like the county commission has made us prisoners of the city of Overland Park, not members of the city of Overland Park,” said Jim Hyatt, one of several residents who spoke.

The hearing is required by state law for an area of southern Overland Park between Pflumm Road and U.S. 69, roughly from 167th Street to 191st Street, with a couple of smaller stretches extending farther south. When the issue first came before the county commission in 2008, the city had asked to annex a larger area, but the county commission scaled back the plan from about 15 square miles to 8.35 square miles.

Residents continued to fight the annexation, but eventually lost their case in court. The episode inspired the Kansas Legislature to rewrite its annexation laws in 2011. Since then, any city wanting to expand its boundaries has to get approval from a vote of affected property owners.

The issue is once again before commissioners because state law requires a review three years after the end of litigation. A finding that the city did not keep its promise to provide services to the area could set things on a path toward de-annexation.

Six residents spoke of their frustration with the city. Hyatt, who lives on 194th Terrace, said that for a long time police were not allowed to patrol south of 159th Street. That has changed recently, he said, but he and others still were unhappy with response times for home alarm systems.

For example, Hyatt said his burglar alarm went off in 2013. “It took 25 minutes for the response to come. Twenty-five minutes. Needless to say, everybody in the house by then was armed and I think they would have responded quicker if we’d called back and said we’d shot somebody.”

Rob Hutchison, another area resident, reported similar response time. “After 25 minutes we gave up. We do not feel at all that we are really safe in our area,” he said.

Several residents also reported dissatisfaction with the snowplow service, saying they often have to wait 48 hours before seeing a snowplow, and then the plow only carves out a narrow one-lane passage. The plows sometimes take out mailboxes and send plumes of slush flying as they speed along the way, they said.

Norman Pishney, who was one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, also spoke at length about the city’s shortcomings, saying he was there on behalf of residents who couldn’t make the morning hearing.

Pishney said the city had not lived up to commitments to give the area lower fees and taxes, among other things. He said taxes have gone up, and being part of the city had meant that landowners who want to add a house to their land have to plat it and pay an excise tax. The city’s failure to meet promises made when the land was annexed effectively makes the annexation invalid, he said.

Gail Radke said the city has failed to control noxious weeds and that the seeds from city-controlled ditches have blown over to the family’s farm.

Several residents said they had not been contacted for surveys the city staff presented showing general satisfaction with services in the area.

One person at the hearing spoke in favor of the annexation. George Schlagel, who is also on the board of the county Park and Recreation District, said the city has dealt fairly with the annexed area. Schlagel was not speaking on behalf of the park district.

Two Overland Park officials also presented their case. City Council President Rick Collins and City Manager Bill Ebel summarized their 70-page report of services provided since 2008. The annexed area has 24-hour service from the police department, with an average response time of 8.7 minutes to top priority emergency calls. Home alarms are categorized differently, and patrolling strategies have also changed over the years, he said.

The police answer 200-300 calls per year from the area and about 70 fire calls. In addition, the city has included the area in its public works and parks master plans, he said.

“We have embraced the annexed area from day one and tried to provide the services we provide everywhere in the city,” Ebel said.

Commissioners will take written statements on the issue through Friday and then leave a week more for rebuttals before making any findings.

If the commission does not find in favor of the city, the city will have another year and a half to improve services before residents could file a de-annexation petition.

Also Thursday, the commission approved an agreement that brings Gardner residents into county Fire District No.1.

The county fire district already covers the area through a contract with the city of Gardner. However the change will mean a higher property tax bill for homeowners there.

This year’s contract with the city is $1.4 million or about 9 mills, said Laura Gourley, city finance director. That amounts to about $180 for the owner of an average home in Gardner valued at about $176,000, she said. A mill equals $1 of tax per each $1,000 of taxable value.

However, Gardner residents have been paying less than their neighbors in the rest of the fire district, said Chief Rob Kirk. Although next year’s fire district mill levy has not been set, it will probably be higher than the 9 mills, he said.

The district’s operating mill levy is currently 12.404 mills, he said. If Gardner homeowners paid that rate next year, the bill on the average home would be about $68 more.

Kirk said he does not expect next year’s tax rate to be higher, since the change will bring more direct tax revenue into the fire district.