Tax increases and renewals in Liberty, Shawnee, Olathe and Leawood will improve services

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve a sales tax increase to help improve downtown Liberty.
Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve a sales tax increase to help improve downtown Liberty. The Kansas City Star

A handful of tax increases and renewals will face suburban Kansas City area voters on Nov. 4. It’s encouraging to see that in most cases city officials are focused on using the funds to bolster public services.

Here are The Star’s recommendations on selected tax issues:

▪ In Liberty, city officials have put an ambitious, three-part plan before voters.

Question 1 calls for imposing a 2.5 percent use tax, paid primarily by businesses on purchases made from out-of-state sellers. The city has pledged to use the revenue, about $500,000 annually, to build and operate a new animal shelter. This is a reasonable use of public funds, deserving a “YES” vote.

Question 2 imposes a 5 percent tax on hotel guests, raising about $170,000 a year. The city wants to use the money to promote tourism, especially for its historic downtown area. The tax also has earned a “YES” vote.

Question 3 is a new three-eighths-cent sales tax that could generate $1.5 million annually from residents and visitors for economic development projects.

City officials plan to use most of the funds from the 20-year tax to extend the South Liberty Parkway from Withers Road to Missouri 291. The new road would open up south Liberty to more residential and business development, improve east-west traffic in the city and reduce congestion elsewhere.

In addition, the city has promised to use at least $5 million to upgrade the historic downtown square with better streets, sidewalks and utility lines.

Because the new parkway and investing in the downtown square could spur economic development, we recommend a “YES” vote on the tax increase.

▪ In Shawnee, voters will evaluate the merits of two issues.

Question 1 renews a one-eighth-cent sales tax to continue enhancing city parks, extending trails and improving the stormwater drainage system. City officials have used the money responsibly since the so-called “Parks and Pipes” tax was endorsed in 2000. Voters ought to say “YES” to extending the tax.

Question 2 creates a new three-eighths-cent sales tax, generating $3.75 million a year. The city plans to spend two-thirds of the money for better maintenance of existing streets, more than doubling the number of streets that can be resurfaced over the 10 years the tax would be in place.

The remaining third of the funds in Shawnee would add curbs, gutters and sidewalks in older neighborhoods along with new asphalt on some rural roads.

If voters approve the new tax, city officials must keep their pledge that it will supplement current spending of $4 million on better streets. Smooth roads are a high priority, according to surveys of Shawnee residents, and the tax increase deserves a “YES” vote.

▪ Olathe voters should say “YES” to renewing the one-eighth-cent sales tax that has been used over the years to provide better parks, trails and recreation areas since 1999.

▪ In Leawood, voters have good reasons to say “YES” to extending the one-eighth-cent tax that’s been responsibly spent on roads and stormwater upgrades since 2000.

▪ Finally, on Kansas City ballots, we previously have urged “NO” votes on both Questions 1 and 2.

Originally, the two proposed sales tax increases were part of a light-rail transportation plan placed on the ballot through an initiative petition. But the City Council has not pledged to use the funds for that purpose; Mayor Sly James and other council members are opposing the tax increases.