Prairie Village City Council 5th Ward candidates talk mask mandate, city spending

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PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — In Johnson County, advance voting by mail for the general election begins next week.

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. 

In Prairie Village, Gregory Shelton and John Beeder are asking for voter support to represent the 5th Ward on the Prairie Village City Council.

Here’s a look at what Beeder and Shelton had to say:  

Q: What is your top policy issue for the City of Prairie Village?

Beeder: Property taxes are top of mind for Ward 5 Constituents. I will work to implement a MILL LEVY DECREASE for the next fiscal year. Prairie Village’s component of [the] property owner’s tax bill has risen at twice the rate of inflation over the past five years. The Sentinel reports that Prairie Village spending from 1997 to 2020 has risen at three times the inflation rate with no increase in city population during that period.

Editor’s note: According to the most recent U.S. Census the population in Prairie Village grew approximately 7 percent from 2010 to 2020.

The city council has had many opportunities to reduce the financial burden on its residents and has chosen to do otherwise. The recently approved 2022 city budget has large spending increases at rates far exceeding inflation in many areas. I support slower spending increases and reducing the need for large property tax increases. 

Shelton: My first priority is to support the maintenance and modernization of our city’s core infrastructure (e.g. roads/sidewalks, facilities, fleet vehicles), so we can realize lower operating costs through improved efficiency while increasing the overall quality of life for everyone in Prairie Village.

Through my work in the engineering and construction industry, I see firsthand how the demands on infrastructure systems around the world continue to evolve. I’m eager to put this experience to work with other council members and the Public Works staff to prioritize projects that will maximize the value of every dollar we invest in our community.

Q: Prairie Village was the first city in Johnson County to issue a city-wide mask mandate. Do you feel this was the right decision? If elected, what metric would you use to determine COVID precautions in the future?

Beeder: I was disappointed in the PROCESS by which the city council first approached their decision to implement a mask mandate. Businesses in Prairie Village control the majority of public spaces impacted by the mask mandate.

By deciding to adopt a different policy than Johnson County, Prairie Village forced our businesses to handle their customers differently than other similar businesses in the county. Prairie Village residents are divided on the idea of a mask mandate. When the city council first debated the mask mandate, they gave little consideration to the competitive impact of a mandate on our local businesses. I know some businesses feel they have been disadvantaged by the mandate. 

City government needs to stay in close communication with our businesses as events develop. I will wholeheartedly support a mask mandate going forward if our businesses feel it will help them serve their customers. As COVID issues develop in the future, I think it is important to closely consult the county government which has a medical infrastructure to evaluate the day-to-day situation. 

Gregory Shelton Prairie Village City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Shelton: I do feel it was the right decision since masks are one of the necessary tools to suppress the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its growing number of variants. Plus, our residents have adapted to the policy quite smoothly, which I think is a reflection of our collective commitment to protecting one another from the virus.

Likewise, from listening to our local frontline medical workers and leaders of our hospital systems, it is expected we will see waves or surges in cases while we pursue higher vaccination rates among residents of the greater Kansas City metro area. So, until vaccination rates are much higher and the virus’s ability to spread and mutate is further inhibited, we will need to rely on masks during periods of high transmission to further protect our vulnerable residents who can’t be vaccinated (i.e. kids under 12, cancer patients, etc.) and sustain our local economy by avoiding school shutdowns or broader community lockdowns brought on by unchecked spread of the virus.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the city budget?

Beeder: As I mentioned earlier, the city has an opportunity to reduce spending. I would emphasize spending decreases in areas that don’t impact our city services; streets, trash, parks, etc.

The one department that I believe needs more support is our POLICE. Not only do they receive some of the smallest increases in the annual budget, their pension plan is also neglected. I would support increasing police spending at a faster rate. I would seek additional funding of their pension plan to bring it above a minimum 80% funding level. 

John Beeder Prairie Village City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Finally, the city is currently carrying a large unspent reserve fund, far above what the city fiscal policy requires. Some of this reserve can be returned to taxpayers through tax relief for Prairie Village property owners. 

Shelton: Prairie Village is one of the most desirable communities to call home in the KC Metro area, due in large part to the quality of services and amenities our city offers its residents. The high rate of satisfaction among our residents is a positive reflection of the continuity our city staff and police department have provided our community for decades.

So, I intend to maintain the current structure and allocation of the city’s budget, and ensure the priorities outlined in our 2040 Comprehensive Plan continue to align with the expectations and needs of our community. In particular, I am eager to work with the council and staff on our capital infrastructure fund, since we will need to address the maintenance and modernization of aging facilities, fleet vehicles and other critical infrastructure that are at or nearing the end of their planned lifecycle.

Q: The city council is in the process of researching a potential plan to decriminalize marijuana possession within the city. Would you support the decriminalization of marijuana in Prairie Village? Please explain why or why not.

Beeder: This is [a] perfect example where the city council needs to stay in its lane. Public policy works best when done at the proper level of government. The Police Chief was loud and clear earlier in the summer when he said that a unilateral decriminalization of marijuana could attract more crime to Prairie Village.

He was concerned individuals who traffic in marijuana (and other things) could relocate to Prairie Village as [a] haven in Johnson County. This is a state and county issue. As our Police Chief described, I believe unintended consequences emerge when jurisdictions wander from what they are designed to govern. Decriminalization of marijuana is an issue our residents are divided on. I would support authorizing our city government to lobby our legislators to work at the state level to enact changes the city council desires. 

Shelton: While the council’s efforts are well intentioned, the reality is we must abide by state and federal law. Thus, any effort to decriminalize marijunana possession in Prairie Village will largely be a symbolic gesture.

I would rather we focus our efforts on lobbying the Kansas State Legislature to resolve legal and economic incongruencies with neighboring States by aligning with them on marijuana legislation. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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