Meet the candidates hoping to fill the At-Large seat on Olathe City Council

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OLATHE, Kan. — In Olathe, Ward 3 City Councilmember Kevin Gilmore is competing with U.S. Army Veteran Dean Vakas to fill the At-Large seat on the Olathe City Council. 

With advanced voting by mail for the general election starting next week, 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. Here’s a look at what Gilmore and Vakas had to say. 

Q: What qualifications do you have that make you stand out from the other candidate? 

Gilmore: I’ve spent my career in the private sector, first as a practicing CPA and then as a financial executive across a variety of industries, and as a partner in a national consulting firm which focused on advisory services to owners of small and mid-sized businesses. I was honored to be elected on an at-large basis by the voters in our community three times before – once to the Kansas State Board of Education and twice to the Olathe School Board. That service, along with the past year on the Council, equate to nearly thirteen years representing the citizens of Olathe in one capacity or another. 

I approach public service from the perspective of the private sector and view operating and financial principles in much the same manner as the average citizen and local business. I have also brought that approach, and my skills and abilities, to serve a variety of civic and charitable organizations across our community, and I’ve served in leadership roles in all areas of my elected and civic service. I understand taxpayers are not an endless supply of resources for government to spend, and I have an established record of actively working to balance the needs of government with the financial burden on our taxpayers.

Dean Vakas Olathe City Council Candidate, At-Large

Vakas: As someone who has dedicated my life to serving others and has accumulated a breadth of skills and experience relevant to or in public service, I bring immediate value to the City Council and all Olathens to help keep our City strong and positioned for success. My 30-year military career includes senior leadership and management positions in large-scale logistics and financial operations. I have an added 15 years in the corporate business world and in higher education management. My MBA and MPA are a powerful combination. I have extensive economic development expertise based on five years chairing Olathe’s Planning Commission. 

I have also invested a considerable amount of time speaking with Olathe residents over the past year to grow my understanding of constituent concerns, and I am committed to being a responsive leader for our community as a whole.

Q:What are your views on the use of benefit districts and other tax based incentives to fund infrastructure improvements? 

Kevin Gilmore Olathe City Council Candidate, At-Large

Gilmore: Incentive programs are intended to grow our economic base – with businesses, jobs and tax revenue – at a faster pace than would otherwise be expected. This approach has helped Olathe shift away from a higher reliance on property taxes to a more diverse tax base that now consists of nearly 50% sales taxes and approximately 20% property taxes. I think that has proven to be an appropriate mix and I am in favor of continuing the judicious use of such programs, provided we periodically take the time to review them to ensure they are producing the results we expect. Our Council has called for such a review, and we should be receiving a report on that in the coming weeks.

Benefit districts, when properly implemented, are also a useful program in addressing the growth needs of our city, both in commercial and residential applications. We operate on the principle that growth should pay for itself, and residential benefit districts are sometimes used in implementing that concept. We recently experienced how they are not intended to be used, when a residential developer filed a request to create a benefit district that would have included many adjoining owners who had been in their properties for several years. I think this recent experience showed us there are improvements to be made in the process, but in the end the developer withdrew the original petition because there did not appear to be much, if any, support for it on the Council – and I was not in favor of it.

Vakas: Olathe uses a variety of mechanisms to fund the maintenance/modernization of existing infrastructure as well as the creation of new infrastructure tied to growth. The expansion of infrastructure tied to growth is an important conversation. The City must embrace growth by proactively encouraging and steering it. The continued growth of Olathe offers the formula for the expanded prosperity of all Olatheans.  

The City must work collaboratively with the business community. Land developers, construction companies, and home builders are all part of the team effort that will create an ever-brighter future for Olathe. I do not support the use of residential benefit districts. However, other forms of benefit districts as well as other forms of tax incentives may be appropriate on a case-by-case basis. The use of any tax-based incentives must be tied to sound business cases with verified return-on-investments that are well explained to the public. The decisions made regarding tax incentives must be fully transparent.

Q:Would you support the city issuing a mask mandate or any other health orders beyond what has been recommended by the county health department? Please explain why or why not. 

Gilmore: No. In our governance structure the state and county are charged with the responsibility for public health management, orders, etc.  The city does not have a public health director on staff nor resources allocated to study and analyze such matters. I do not believe we need to act beyond what is mandated or recommended by our county.

Vakas: I am a huge proponent of personal freedoms and rights and have fought to defend those freedoms as a member of our military. There are times, however, when we must support decisions aimed at protecting our collective community. I hate masking, but when it is called for, it is an example of the right thing to do in order to protect one another and ourselves. 

In regard to related health orders, this is a case where I would support the professional guidance of our public health officials. It is important that we all work together, consistently in order to rid ourselves of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our surest path to a full return to normalcy.

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