OLATHE, Kan. —Johnson County, Kansas will contribute $15 million to support infrastructure improvements in De Soto related to creation of an electric vehicle battery plant. 

Earlier this month Panasonic announced it will create a $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant on the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Thursday the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted 5-2 to allocate $7.5 million towards the construction of a new fire station to serve the development and the surrounding area. Commissioners Michael Ashcraft and Charlotte O’Hara voted against funding the project. 

Ashcraft said he is not comfortable supporting the commitment to the fire station, because he feels the funds should have been considered when the City of De Soto approved the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for the project.  

“This should have been part of the consideration for the approval of the TIF and the acceptance of the TIF and the funding of the TIF,” Ashcraft said. 

Shortly after Panasonic’s announcement to create a battery plant, the De Soto City Council approved two project plans within the 5,877 acre TIF district on the former ammunition plant property. The first 300 acre project will house Panasonic’s battery plant and is estimated to generate about $202.6 million in revenue over the 20-year lifespan of the TIF. 

The second project covers roughly 296 acres directly south of the plant. That project is estimated to generate about $200 million in revenue over the life of the TIF. 

In February, the BOCC approved new agreement terms for the development of the former ammunition plant. According to that agreement, the developer Sunflower Redevelopment LLC (SRL), will donate approximately five acres of land within the Sunflower property to the Northwest Consolidated Fire District to create a new fire station. 

The county will now allocate $7.5 million from the Countywide Support Fund (CSF) to support the construction of a new fire station capable of serving the lithium battery plant and the additional residential growth expected in the area.

The board also voted 6-1 to allocate $7.5 million towards road improvements to support the new development with only Commissioner O’Hara voted against the investment. 

KDOT has committed $26 million towards road improvements to support the new development. The economic development funds used by the state require a 25% local match. Under the agreement with KDOT, the county will provide $6.5 million in matching funds for the project as well as a $1 million contingency fund. 

“It’s contemplated that a four lane urban type of road improvement is needed. That would extend from K-10 south to 103rd Street and over to Lexington,” Public Works Director Brian Pietig said.  

“The safety of those roads are detrimental to the people who live here and this is the way we can get out in front of it,” Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand said.  

Jay Leipzig, director of planning, housing and community development, said as part of the initial transportation plan the City of De Soto will contribute $2.2 million towards the road improvements. The city will also commit approximately $5.5 million in TIF revenue towards the project. 

The City of De Soto has committed to making roughly $40 million in infrastructure improvements over the next two years to support the new development. 

Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson said the county contribution will come from the Countywide Support Fund (CSF). According to county records, the CSF is money allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to address lost revenue caused by the pandemic. 

“There are particular requirements about how we use these funds, so we must be very careful about our terminology. They are not now ARPA dollars. They [the dollars] have lost their identity. They have been claimed as a result of our lost revenue and pulled in. So now, they are part of our general fund reserves and can be used as this body[the BOCC] determines without any further federal restrictions.” 

O’Hara said she doesn’t support putting more money towards the project, because while the plant is expected to create 4,000 new jobs Panasonic is not required to create a set number of jobs. 

“There’s no guarantees.This is a crucial component of many economic development packages, how many jobs are going to be created and what the minimum pay is going to be. I think that this is way too premature,” O’Hara said.  

Prior to the vote, multiple residents requested the board postpone its decision on allocating money for the infrastructure upgrades. 

“This isn’t ready for a decision yet. It seems like there are too many unknowns and at a minimum this needs to be tabled until you have answers to all the questions that everyone has asked,” Phil Bauer said.