Under Mayor Mark Holland, Wyandotte County has continued its economic renaissance, but that’s not the only reason he deserves a second term.
Holland’s record is impressive. Property tax rates have fallen; the county has ratcheted up its war on blight; the county just landed a major new employer in the Amazon fulfillment center; unemployment is at its lowest point in 30 years; and the groundbreaking for Holland’s long-promised downtown healthy campus is just months away.
It’s a stellar list of accomplishments for a mayor who has carried on the county’s recent tradition of fine leadership since voters wisely chose to consolidate county and city governments 20 years ago.
Despite the progress, the county still faces a dizzying array of challenges. Property taxes remain too high. The disparity between the dazzling economic growth of western Wyandotte County and the decrepit housing stock in the east is disheartening. Food deserts persist. Health outcomes rank second-lowest of any county in Kansas. Downtown desperately needs an influx of major businesses and activity.
All that suggests residents must remain patient. No one leader can reverse in a single term, or even two, the fortunes of a county facing as many serious challenges as Wyandotte County.
But make no mistake: The county has come a long way. Perhaps the best barometer of that is its population, which is now increasing after years of out-migration that saw the number of residents drop 8 percent in the 1970s, 6 percent in the 1980s, 2.5 percent in the 1990s and 0.2 percent through 2010.
The losses were devastating and were one big reason why property taxes have been stubbornly high.
Since 2010, the population has ticked upwards from 157,505 to 163,831 in 2016. That’s a solid bump of 4 percent.
Holland can go a long way toward backing up his boast that Wyandotte County is “hitting on all cylinders.” More than half the $5.5 billion in development that’s occurred in the past 20 years took place during the last four years, a result of major investments at the Fairfax GM plant, the KU Medical Center and the Amazon project.
The mayor and his economic team smartly ensured that county residents would get a significant chunk of the new Amazon jobs. In fact, Wyandotte County residents were hired for 1,000 of the 3,000 jobs created, far better than the county’s 15 percent share of the metro population. That addressed a long-standing concern that economic growth had failed to benefit residents.
Holland also deserves credit for a thoughtful, deliberative process for distributing the county’s $12 million-a-year “windfall” from the repayment of STAR bonds and for facing down the ever-rising costs of public safety that now consume 60 percent of the budget.
That cost-conscious focus is essential, even though it resulted in protests from firefighters last week.
Holland’s opponent, David Alvey, a member of the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, has run a determined campaign, but he has struggled to articulate a vision that sways between the polar opposites of more tax cuts and a need to address the county’s towering backlog of deferred maintenance. As the challenger, Alvey needs to make the case that Holland must be replaced, and he has fallen short.
These are exciting times in Wyandotte County. Residents would be wise to continue the momentum with a vote Tuesday to re-elect Mark Holland.