Get to know the three candidates for Olathe City Council’s at-large seat

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OLATHE, Kan. — David Laughter, Dean Vakas and current Ward 3 Councilmember Kevin Gilmore are competing to fill the At-Large seat on the Olathe City Council. 

Ahead of the Aug. 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.

Here’s what candidates in the Olathe City Council At-Large race had to say: 

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

Gilmore: If I had to narrow it down to a single issue it would be quality of life, because that covers a variety of important issues. Our City receives significantly high survey scores from our citizens in the areas of Quality of Life and Quality of Services and we must continue to maintain and/or improve those results. Two of the areas that present challenges to this are traffic congestion management and the need to maintain our growing level of aging infrastructure.

Laughter: Top issue from my perspective is the overall tax realities of being an Olathe resident. I believe we are rapidly approaching a point where we will be non-competitive vs other communities and counties. It is my desire to work in a collaborative manner with the county and school district to develop a comprehensive tax strategy to maintain our competitiveness while still meeting the needs of our citizenry.

Dean Vakas Olathe City Council Candidate, At-Large

Vakas: Managing growth with fiscally responsible leadership, while embracing the full intent of the Olathe 2040 Strategic Plan is our biggest challenge. It involves an assortment of policies.  

Olathe remains on a steep upward growth trajectory. As it has for the past 20+ years, we expect Olathe to continue to grow with the addition of 2,000 new residents every year. People are moving to Olathe, because we have a great community, great school district, great jobs, and a great business climate. We must maintain all that is good in Olathe, while scaling it up as the City expands. This includes continuing to deliver the best municipal services in the KC metropolitan area.  Our commitment to “live the Strategic Plan” ensures success.

Q:  With housing costs increasing in Johnson County, how can the City of Olathe improve affordable housing options for its residents? 

Gilmore: This is an area which the Council needs to place more focus in order to determine what can be done to provide more opportunities for affordable/attainable housing, as it does not appear to be happening naturally through normal market processes. This should begin with a formal review of the findings of the recent County housing study.  

David Laughter Olathe City Council Candidate, At-Large

Laughter: Affordable housing (especially for the younger and lower income people) is one the three main focus areas I hope to work on if elected.  This is already a serious challenge and only looks to get worse in the coming years. My desire is to work closely with both developers and the business community in Olathe to encourage investments as well as new strategies to address this issue.

Vakas: The City Council must take a leadership role in encouraging the development of housing that serves the full spectrum of our population. It is especially important to embrace the recommendations provided by the Johnson County Housing For All Task Force. 

As an example, the City can modify the Uniform Development Ordinance and Zoning rules to allow for the creation of smaller sized lots. The City can also waive certain development fees. This in no way lowers the quality of construction, but it does allow the residential development community to deliver a lower priced home. Public/Private Partnerships should be explored, and certain incentives should be considered when a valid business case can be made.

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

Gilmore: One of my priorities with the budget is to continue to stabilize the mill levy, so I think we should start there. Our general fund is currently supported by approximately 50% sales tax and just under 20% property taxes. We have had a fairly stable mill levy for many years, but that means we have been increasing property tax revenues through valuation increases to meet our growing infrastructure needs. It’s important we begin with a revenue target that underscores the principle that taxpayers are not a never-ending supply of tax resources.

Laughter: The city is running well due to the hard work of the current and past leadership and professional staff.  There are new challenges coming requiring new and creative solutions. Targeting investment in some of the more mature areas of the city is something I hope to work hard if elected. This will mean other items of the current budget will have to be adjusted.

Vakas: Olathe’s FY22 proposed budget is in excess of $450 million. The City is a big business and the budget is complex. The budget is balanced and aligned to spending priorities. The prioritization and budgeting process must be transparent at all times. This is especially important for Capital Improvement Projects prioritization. Budgeting workshops should be well-advertised and open to the public. The City should adjust its debt policy on the margin to allow additional infrastructure projects during this period of extraordinarily low financing costs. Lastly, Olathe should shift from a two-year budget cycle to a rolling two-year cycle. 

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?

Kevin Gilmore Olathe City Council Candidate, At-Large

Gilmore: I believe in the use of tax incentives to spur the growth of commercial and industrial development which helps to grow our economic tax base and further relieve the pressure on the property tax mill levy. I believe the City’s current policies and requirements are sufficient, but also agree with the need to periodically evaluate the efficacy of those policies which we will be doing this Fall.

Laughter: As a general statement I am not in favor of creating these types of incentives for businesses. It’s been my experience that investment decisions for any business are best if standing alone on the commercial merits of the business plan.  Decisions with an emphasis on what additional incentives are provided by the city do not prove out in the long term. The incentives the city can participate in should be focused on infrastructure and zoning considerations.

Vakas: The City must embrace growth, proactively encouraging and steering it. The continued growth of Olathe; residential, commercial, and industrial offers the formula for the expanded prosperity of all Olatheans. 

The City must work collaboratively with the business community. Various businesses, including land developers, construction companies, and home builders are all part of the team effort that will create an ever-brighter future for Olathe. The City must update and follow its Comprehensive Development Plan.  Development and redevelopment must be based on sound business cases. TIFs, CIDs, and other forms of tax abatements are a part of the selective incentives that may be appropriate with verified ROIs explained to the public. It is key that the process of determining the potential for development incentives be entirely transparent. All growth must be managed to enhance the existing fabric of Olathe. 

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