MERRIAM, Kan. —City Council President Bob Pape will serve as interim mayor for the City of Merriam, following the retirement of Ken Sissom on October 31.
Ahead of the general election on Nov. 2, FOX4 is working to help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro.
FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County. FOX4 did not receive a response from Lopez. Here’s what Pape had to say:
Q: What is your top policy issue for the City of Merriam?
Pape: Although there are several things that could have a huge impact on Merriam as we move forward in the future; I will address one. The Board of Taxing Appeals (BOTA) has made a ruling that could have a huge impact on the property tax revenue that we receive from large department stores.
They have introduced a “Dark Store Theory” that states large big box stores should be assessed and taxed as if the store was vacant. It will no longer take into consideration that the business may be generating millions of dollars in revenue and/or located on a highly traveled roadway. This method drastically changes the way our Johnson County Assessor places value on buildings throughout Johnson County. This new method of assessment is currently being challenged in the Court system. If this method is not overturned by the courts; it will require our state legislature to intervene.
In the event that the Dark Store Theory of taxation comes to fruition, it will result in Merriam losing several hundred thousand yearly in revenue. Ultimately, that will either result in a shift of tax burden from commercial to our residents or we will have to drastically reduce services. Either way will have a huge impact on our city. We will continue to offer testimony in the court system and to our legislators to overturn BOTA’s decision.
Q: What do you feel will be the biggest challenge to the city in the next 10 years and how should it be addressed?
Pape: I think the biggest challenge we face concerns the revitalization of our Downtown Merriam Corridor. This area is located in a flood plain and has stymied the ability of current business to expand their operations.
We have many great businesses located in this area that have played a vital role in our community for many years. They have generated a lot of tax revenue for the city. We need to assist them by getting this area out of the flood plain. This will reduce the inflated cost of their insurance. We have been working with the Corp of Engineers and they have developed a plan that will fix this problem. Unfortunately, it will cost $43 million to do it. Merriam has set aside $5 million and Johnson County has $8 million to contribute. We have been in contact with Representative Sharice Davids, who has acquired partial funding and is seeking full funding so that this project can be completed.
We currently have a Downtown Committee that is seeking input from the community and from downtown business owners about what they would like to see occur in this location. I think it is important to listen to what they find out and take into consideration their ideas as we move forward. I hope that Downtown Merriam can become a destination location where people can work, play, eat, shop, get their vehicle repaired, buy a vehicle or violin and be entertained. I would encourage the public to share their ideas at email@example.com.
Q: How can the city attract new businesses and bring new jobs to the community?
Pape: The city has taken an active role in attracting new business into our community. We now have numerous car dealerships, IKEA, Merriam Town Center, and the Merriam Village Shops. The primary method that this occurred was through Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
We are limited in areas where we can assist in future development due to the fact that we are a land locked city. However, the old K-Mart property was recently turned into an I-35 TIF district. We will consider the use of TIF to get this tract of land developed. It will have to be a project that is right for both our community and the developer. I believe that the Shawnee Mission Corridor from Antioch to I-35 also has potential for redevelopment. Although, we currently do not have any Capital Improvement Districts (CID), we are developing a council policy that would govern its utilization if deemed appropriate. Both of these mechanisms (TIF & CID) may be utilized to attract new business and bring new jobs to Merriam.
Q: What is your view on the use of tax incentives for new development? What criteria would you use when determining if incentives should be granted to developers wanting to build within the city?
Pape: I believe that it is sometimes necessary to offer tax incentives to develop property. The proper way to do this is through the development of a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. Typically, these districted are established for a finite time frame such as 20- 30 years. At the conclusion of that time, the property goes back onto the tax rolls and its future revenue is generated to all taxing jurisdictions.
The legal rationale for using public dollars on a private development is that the project would not be economically viable without the use of TIF funds. There are limitations on how these funds can be used. They may be used for public infrastructure, land acquisition, demolition, utilities and planning cost, sewer expansion and repair, curb and sidewalk, storm drainage, traffic control, street construction and expansion, street lighting, water supply, landscaping, park improvements, environmental remediation, bridge construction and repair and parking structures. They may not be used to build a building.
Each project considered for TIF funding must be evaluated to determine whether it is good for our community. There must be a clear benefit that exceeds the cost. It may provide something that is desired such as a grocery store, affordable housing, retail that generates sales tax revenue or a host of other uses. Ideally, the project offers mixed use that meets a multitude of needs.