OLATHE, Kan. — Next week the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) will consider providing $15 million to support infrastructure improvements in De Soto.
Earlier this month Panasonic announced it will create a $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant on the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
The new plant is expected to create 4,000 new jobs paying an average of $30 an hour. Once construction is complete, the plant is expected to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Before work begins on the new battery plant, the board will consider allocating county funds to support the development through road improvements and the construction of a new fire station.
“If we do want any kind of development in that part of the county we are going to have to look at meeting these infrastructure needs no matter who or what might be going in there,” Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick said.
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 board will now consider allocating roughly $7.5 million from the Countywide Support Fund (CSF) to construct a new fire station capable of serving the lithium battery plant and supporting the additional residential growth expected in the area.
“Right now the request before the board is $7.5 million towards the construction of the building itself. I do know that there are going to be other costs; the apparatus and the ongoing operational cost. There is no request of this body to pay for those expenses at this time,” Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson said.
Thompson said right now he does not believe the current fire district has the resources needed to provide adequate fire protection for the anticipated needs of the area. Thompson said in the future county leaders may be asked to consider additional funding options to meet those safety needs.
A majority of the current roads serving the project area are two-lane roads that will likely require upgrades to support increased traffic.
“They [Panasonic] want to begin production in July of 2024. It’s a very quick turnaround time. They are looking at a design-build process, so to expedite that we are working with the Kansas Department of Transportation to do that for the infrastructure improvements,” Jay Leipzig, director of planning, housing and community development, said.
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 proposed agreement with KDOT, the county would provide $6.5 million in matching funds for the project as well as a $1million contingency fund.
Leipzig said which specific roads will be covered by the county’s $7.5 million contribution is still being finalized.
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.
Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara said based on the tax incentives for the project provided by the state and the City of De Soto, she doesn’t support using additional county funds to support the development.
“We have other uses for the $15 million such as the issues in our secondary roads and the safety issues in trying to get semis off our roads. We have tons of other projects. This isn’t the only project in the county,” O’Hara said.
Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand said the new Panasonic plant will create new jobs and provide opportunities for additional high-level job training.
“There’s going to be other programs that are going to be provided through Panasonic and other partners for education and training for jobs. This is really important for economic growth,” Allenbrand said