August primary draws three contenders to Overland Park City Council’s 2nd Ward race

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Ahead of the August 3 primary, FOX4 is working to help voters understand where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro. FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to all primary candidates in Johnson County. 

Melissa Cheatham, Tony Medina and Roger Tarbutton are asking for voter support to represent the 2nd Ward on the Overland Park City Council.

FOX4 did not receive a response from Medina. This is what Cheatham and Tarbutton had to say: 

Q: What is your top policy issue for the City of Overland Park?

Cheatham: My top priorities are: Keep the City Working. Overland Park is ranked a top place to live and raise a family because things work well here. My top priority is to continue this excellence for our residents, who deserve reliable, high-quality municipal services.

Build for the future. Our city has set goals to be welcoming, forward-thinking, and innovative. These should be our criteria for encouraging growth.

Tarbutton: Listen to and further the wishes of the residents of Ward 2 and Overland Park. I previously ran for city council in 2019. One of my priorities during that election was the adoption of a public comment period at city council meetings. Although I lost in a close race, my public comment proposal was subsequently adopted by the city council. Greater opportunity for residents to participate at committee meetings should also be provided where a great deal of outcome determinative business is also conducted.  

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?

Cheatham: My husband and I chose Overland Park as the place we wanted to raise our family in part because it offered affordable housing for us. When we settled here, I had just quit my job in order to be a stay-at-home mom and he had taken a substantial pay cut in order to start his own business. Despite our reduced income, we could still find an affordable home. Today, a family in a similar position would likely struggle to find a home because prices have climbed so dramatically. Affordable housing isn’t just a low-income issue. We must tackle this to remain a welcoming community.

I was pleased to participate in the Housing For All Task Force convened by United Community Services of Johnson County. The Task Force evaluated dozens of solutions, many of which I believe could be successful here. I believe changes in zoning can be part of a package of remedies that will chip away at the problem. I’m particularly interested in changes that would result in more “missing middle” housing, such as those identified in the 2019 recommendations from the Incremental Development Alliance.

I’m interested in learning more about “accessory dwelling units” or “granny flats” that could provide homes for aging parents, recent graduates, or enable long-time residents to age in place by providing rental income, a solution supported by AARP, the country’s biggest lobby for retirees.

Roger Tarbutton Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 2

I would support prioritizing incentives to encourage non-luxury, rather than luxury-only, homes. I support a holistic approach to affordability, which considers the full cost of living in a home. As such, I successfully pushed to make Overland Park’s building code for new homes the most energy efficient in the county, which will save owners money on their utility bills. I also support investments that make walking, biking and transit safe and practical choices so that residents can choose to forgo the costs of car travel when they wish. 

Tarbutton: The need for affordable housing is more prominent in areas south of I-435. Ward 2, north of I-435 has a significant number of older apartment complexes with lower income housing. Instead of using tax incentives to subsidize the construction of luxury apartments, a practice which contributes to the high cost of housing, tax incentives should be used where appropriate to redevelop or rehabilitate existing housing stock. Currently, most affordable housing programs in Overland Park are funded by the federal government and managed by Johnson County Government. If elected, I will encourage staff to confer with Johnson County Government to explore new ways of addressing the issue.

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?

Melissa Cheatham Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 2

Cheatham: Overland Park is one of the best places in the country to live, work and play. People and employers want to be here. As such, taxpayer subsidies should be used strategically to encourage the highest quality projects that advance community goals and catalyze additional unsubsidized growth.

Done right, incentives can be deployed to revitalize entire neighborhoods, prevent blight, bring good jobs, or attract innovative projects. For example, I see the revitalization and investment in Downtown Overland Park as a success. Public-private partnership has turned an area that had been devoid of investment for decades into a thriving destination with new energy, businesses and residents, and new choices for how to live in Overland Park. Taxpayers’ investment is already paying dividends for the city by increasing property values and generating sales tax revenues today. 

However, the council should not be a rubber stamp for every request from a developer. I have spoken in the past to raise concerns about incentive requests. For example, I have raised concerns about using incentives to give a face lift to an aging strip mall or build a traditional office tower instead of encouraging the mixed-use, walkable development pictured in the city’s vision documents. I would also support leading by example and requiring projects built with taxpayer funds to meet a higher environmental or energy efficiency standard than is required of privately-funded projects. I believe we should reserve incentives to encourage high quality development that advances the city’s visions. 

Tarbutton: As one of the most desirable places in the nation to live, Overland Park will attract plenty of new development without the use of tax incentives. In my opinion, tax incentives have been overused in the last decade or two which has eroded the tax base and shifted the burden of increased taxes onto the backs of homeowners. Tax incentives should be reserved for truly exceptional projects or to rehabilitate distressed properties not for run of the mill high-rise apartments and mixed-use developments.    

Q: Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what would you recommend the city use to repair streets? 

Cheatham: No one loves chip seal. It is a lower quality product but one the city has chosen because alternatives are much more expensive and the focus has been on keeping our property taxes low. We make decisions like these in our families every day, making trade-offs and setting priorities according to what we can afford.  

I understand that we would pay about $30 million per year for alternatives, compared to about $4 million for chip seal. If we pay for that entirely through property taxes, the mill levy would need to be raised by 40%—about $70 per $100,000 in appraised value.

At the same time, our community is asking for other investments that cost money, too, including better mental health services, gathering places, street trees, bike lanes, better sidewalks, updated parks, more climate resilience, and more community outreach. 

Community engagement is one of my top priorities, so I will be eager to hear from residents about their willingness to invest more in our community and whether upgraded pavement is their top priority. I would personally rank chip seal low on my priority list, but  as an elected official, it would be my job to gauge and consider the priorities of the entire community.

Tarbutton: Providing excellent streets and infrastructure to enhance the safety of our residents should be paramount in the minds of our elected officials. The use of chip-seal to maintain residential streets is universally disliked and other local municipalities have either dropped it or are in the process of transitioning away from it. It is time for Overland Park to seriously address the issue and begin transitioning to better quality asphalt-based surfaces.

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