OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — With the Aug. 3 primary election less than a week away, 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 all primary candidates in Johnson County. In Overland Park, four candidates are competing to fill a seat on the Overland Park City Council to represent the 1st Ward: Michael Czerniewski, Logan Heley, Carol Merritt and Ryan Spencer.
Q: What is your top policy issue for the city of Overland Park?
Czerniewski: The biggest priority right now is that we have a city council that has consistently failed to listen to the needs of the citizens. This can be seen all over the city, including right next door to my house, where the first of three houses that my neighborhood did not want has recently been completed.
Heley: Transparency and engagement have been key priorities in my first term, as indicated by a few of those accomplishments I mentioned. I’ve also hosted more than two dozen town hall meetings for residents to engage with me directly. I was also the first Overland Park Councilmember to be active on social media. I plan to continue prioritizing transparency and engagement in my second term. In the next four years as we look towards the next 60 years of our city, I believe the issues of housing affordability, infrastructure, public health and safety, and climate change will need to be primary focuses of our elected officials if we hope to maintain the high quality of life we currently enjoy in our community.
Merritt: My top 3 policies are as follows. The FBI crime statistics predict 4k property and violent crimes will be committed. Most of them by meth addicted people. I have a prosecuting attorney who agreed to help me reduce this. Big drug dealers beware! I have had success in my 20 years in the inner city!!
Spencer: My top policy issue for the city is not just listening to residents but taking their input and feedback and actually voting based on what the council is hearing. Too often the majority voice of the residents is being ignored. The council has taken strides the past couple of years regarding transparency with open forums to speak and recording meetings (which are honestly just basic requirements of a functioning democracy), but if an elected official is not voting based on what they’re hearing from their residents, that open mic might as well not exist. A lot of other issues with the city could easily be solved if we not just listened, but acted for the residents. I’ve said repeatedly during the campaign: the residents of this city know what’s best for their neighborhoods and communities, not 12 people sitting in a chamber.
Q: What initiatives would you support to improve affordable housing options in Overland Park? How can Overland Park offer a range of housing options for residents of different income levels throughout the city?
Czerniewski: In terms of affordable housing, I would require future developers to include such housing in their plans. Also, I do feel that we need to get profit motive completely out of such projects, because that’s part of what keeps driving up the price of housing. Right now, all of the developments around the city, especially in Downtown Overland Park, are geared towards unaffordable luxury apartments. Further, the issue of affordable housing is a nationwide one that we can tackle locally.
Heley: As a recent first-time home buyer, I know first-hand that housing affordability is one of our community’s biggest challenges right now. The 2021 Johnson County Housing Study was recently released with recommendations on how to make our community more healthy and affordable for all. We need to do our part in Overland Park to help implement those recommendations. Among those recommendations, which I support, was adding more townhomes, patio homes, du-and tri-plexes, co-housing, and Accessory Dwelling Units to our city’s housing stock. That’s why when developers come asking for incentives, I tell them they need to help us make housing more affordable in our city. And I have a record of getting those commitments. We won’t solve this challenge overnight, but housing affordability is and will continue to be my top priority for our community.
Merritt: As a 30 year veteran in real estate, I know there are only 65% homeowners, the rest are renters in OP. This is unacceptable. Why? Because we are building more apartments instead of affordable townhomes and condos. Also, lack of down payments, lack of mortgage approval, due to problems with credit scores. There are banks and mtg. Lenders who can help. I have helped many with these problems. It is amazing. My clients walk into closing with no money and come out with cash in their pockets!
Spencer: The denser housing options being built are not affordable (most have rental rates similar or higher than comparable mortgages) and they only end up raising property taxes and home values for the single-family housing around them thereby pricing home buyers out of the market. I would like to see more single-family homes or smaller multi-unit buildings (such as Oxford Row on 80th and Glenwood) be built and that they blend in with the existing surrounding neighborhoods. I’d also like to see the city council use some of its influence to convince new apartment development to be at market rates instead of yet another “luxury” complex. We have apartments with lower rental rates with availability in OP, the problem is everyone wants to give TIF money to luxury units instead of using that money as it’s more so intended, to help create housing opportunities for all market levels.
Q: What is your view on the use of tax incentives for new commercial development? What criteria would you use when determining if incentives like Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), tax abatements or the creation of a Community Improvement District (CID) should be granted to developers wanting to build within the city?
Czerniewski: TIF projects should only be used for blighted properties, of which Overland Park has very few to none. However, we still see TIFs popping up all over the city, particularly in North OP and especially Downtown. Further, they place a massive property tax burden on non-Overland Park government entities, especially the Shawnee Mission School District. This is not the right way to go about these projects at this time.
Heley: I only support incentives if there is a financial return on investment for our taxpayers and for our schools. I have worked hard to ensure tax and incentive policies are focused on residents and community benefits, not wealthy developers. And that’s why I don’t take a dime of campaign contributions from developers. Some incentives I’ve supported, and some incentives I haven’t supported, especially if they would raise our already-too-high sales tax rate. The key for me is always if our community is getting more benefit from the deal then we’re giving up. Since joining the Council, I’ve advocated for our city to update its incentive policies to prioritize diversifying our community’s housing portfolio, environmental sustainability, and social equity considerations as well as infill development (rather than greenfield).
Merritt: I HIGHLY recommend using Overland Park architects and construction companies. Also, using at least 50 percent of Minority Business Enterprises. These are certified in Kansas and must be at least 51percent owned by and controlled by a minority , a woman or a disadvantaged person. (ex) Latinos, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaska native.
Spencer: Overland Park sells itself, we can’t simultaneously be the largest city in the county and in the top 10 of whatever list is coming out this week while also needing to hand out money to convince developers to build here. Every study done shows that tax incentives rank at the bottom, if not last, in the list of reasons CEO’s relocate somewhere; and they provide little to no economic difference when all other factors are considered. I’d much rather see that money go to aspects of our city that potential businesses see when considering a move. To our schools so outside companies see a well-educated and intelligent work force, infrastructure so outside companies see we care about employees wellbeing in transit and utilities, and local small businesses wanting to get started in the city so outside companies see that Overland Park cares about entrepreneurs in our own neighborhood. If used to bring in new development, it needs to be a truly blighted area (for which we need to be questioning how it got that way in the first place), and the primary stakeholder needs to be the surrounding community, not the developer themselves, not big box stores wanting to move in and not a single member or the city council or staff; the residents get the first and last say.
Q: Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what would you recommend the city use to repair streets?
Czerniewski: I am against the use of chip seal on residential streets, and am open to any and all alternatives.
Heley: Some candidates talk about wanting to get rid of chip seal, I’m the candidate who actually has a real plan to make it happen without skyrocketing folks’ property taxes. Switching from Chip Seal to a different street preservation method would require about a 40% increase in our property tax rate. Instead, I’ve advocated to increase funding to our concrete neighborhood street reconstruction program so we can transition off of the Chip Seal street preservation method meaning we’ll get away from the neverending cycle of trucks, disruption and street maintenance in favor of better, smoother, longer lasting streets. As we do this we also need to be sure we support safety and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists. As Vice Chair of our City’s Public Works Committee, I believe in finding sustainable solutions for Overland Park’s infrastructure that will make our neighborhoods healthier, safer, and more affordable. In my first four years and next four, if the voters allow, I will work to make our city more walkable, bikeable, and better connected.
Merritt: My research on this matter is as follows. Chip seal does not last as long as asphalt. I have heard that it scrapes off by the snow plows during winter. Also, I am told that the chip seal process does not fill in pot holes. Thumbs down on chip seal.
Spencer: I 100% do not support the chip seal program. It fails sooner than any other method of resurfacing and does damage to vehicles, driveways, houses, pets; and most importantly, people. I believe we should be using ultra thin resurfacing for our roads or pouring new concrete where applicable. It would cost more up front for these methods, but it would be lasting much, much longer than the chip seal does, particularly with the plowing and de-icing that Overland Park must do every winter. I believe, in the long run, the cost per year of usage (with the bulk pricing that we could get as a large customer) would come out fairly comparable and you would be making the residents happy as well. We always here talk of the importance of maintaining infrastructure for business development/incentivization but when it comes to the most visible part of that infrastructure, we’re the only city in the county using something as flimsy as chip seal for our residential streets, it reflects poorly on us and needs to be changed.