Meet the primary candidates for Overland Park City Council’s 5th Ward seat

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Early voting for the August 3 primary election kicks off this weekend.

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. 

Three candidates are vying for a seat on the Overland Park City Council to represent the 5th Ward: Amy Goodman-Long, Sam Passer and Sheila Rodriguez. Here’s what they had to say:

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

Goodman-Long: There are many policy issues important to Overland Park. The expected increase in population makes affordable housing options a top priority I plan to support. 

Passer: Public Safety — we need to keep Overland Park safe by funding first responders. One of the most important elements of any community is living in a safe environment. Our first responders have been a tremendous asset for Overland Park and I’ll ensure it stays that way through hiring as needed and enhancing training such as following recommendations which were made by the Mental Health Task Force.

Sheila Rodriguez Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Rodriguez: My top policy issue is reinvesting our taxes in our core infrastructure and public services/amenities. I have a deep appreciation for the visionary leaders who founded our beautiful city 60 years ago; however, the model that worked over the last 60 years will NOT work for the next 60 years. It’s not sustainable. We need to make changes.

Our priority needs to be reinvesting our taxes in us, the residents, and focusing on improving the things that attracted each of us to OP many years ago (neighborhoods, schools, parks, community programs, resources, etc). Somewhere along the way in our efforts to build a first-class city, many our greatest assets were put on the back burner.

Instead of proposing tax increases to renew our focus on those assets, we should be working with our talented professionals within our city staff to determine what funds they need to eliminate chip seal, to replace curbs/sidewalks, to install ADA ramps at intersections, to improve parks, etc. Those should be the first line items inserted in our budget. Residents shouldn’t be penalized by contributing more money towards a budget which seems to allocate more funds to developers than meeting the high expectations of our residents, business owners and visitors.

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?

Goodman-Long: We should concentrate on existing housing stock and rental opportunities as opposed to thinking solutions will come through new construction. I’d like to see continued consultation with  the United Community Services of Johnson County, along with other organizations to make affordable housing available in fair and equitable ways. I’d also support policy making and potential zoning changes to make this happen.

Sam Passer Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Passer: I strongly believe that any professional who wants to work in Overland Park should have an option to live in Overland Park. I think a good benchmark is looking at the salary for a new teacher or a new police officer and then evaluate what type of housing options are available. I know a certain segment of this community is very anti-apartment, but I believe that apartments can be one form of affordable housing (and the percentage of apartments to single family homes is the same today as it has been historically since OP was founded and has remained relatively consistent throughout the city’s existence).

As residents want to own their homes, I do believe that zoning is an effective tool that can be used to help drive more affordable housing options. An additional measure I’d like to see the city take is engaging with builders to understand some nationwide trends – across the country there are some innovative affordable housing developments underway – through acting as a community, we can collaboratively find solutions that best meet the needs of current and future residents.

Rodriguez: Affordable housing options ensures a city is welcoming to a diverse population. I would support zoning changes to facilitate building a greater variety of housing types (smaller homes on smaller lots, patio homes, villas and townhomes) within our community. We have a higher demand for more neighborhoods with single-family homes than we do for more unaffordable, luxury apartments.

I think the City is taking a few steps in the right direction to diversify our housing portfolio, but we need to do more. I was pleased to see the city recently approved converting a few vacant extended stay hotel properties into one-bedroom and studio units. I’d rather see a property repurposed, than to sit vacant year over year (i.e., Wright Career College at I-435 and Metcalf).

We should also consider adding a tab to the home page of our city’s website for “Residents”. There’s a tremendous amount of housing resources within Johnson County if you know where to look. Offering links to those resources could greatly benefit any current/future resident in need of assistance. Having a section on the website focused on Residents would also be helpful for organizing information, increasing communication, and generating awareness of key issues.

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? 

Amy Goodman-Long Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Goodman-Long: Incentives are appropriate when (1) they address an area that is at risk of becoming blighted, (2) the developer is bringing something to OP that we don’t already have and (3) the project is something OP wants but is not possible without some incentives.    

Passer: I’ve reviewed many of the tax incentives that Overland Park has used over the past several years and have found that most investments have paid off – I believe the facts prove out that these incentives have truly been investments and not giveaways. For instance, the city may give property tax incentives that produce increased sales tax so the net impact was positive for the city.

Additionally, in these incentive contracts, the city protects us, as taxpayers, so we’re never at risk if the company doesn’t meet its job or growth projections. In the few cases when companies haven’t hit their promised targets, those companies repaid incentives through clawback provisions the City required. I believe it would be a mistake to swear off offering incentives to attract new business. I am in favor of continuing to review incentives that have been offered, analyze the return on those investments, holding those who have received incentives to live up to what they agreed to deliver, and to adjust incentive strategies as appropriate to make sure maximum investment revenue is achieved. 

Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of investments should only be used in blighted areas. The absolute worst time to make an investment is when you’re desperate.  A healthy economy stays healthy. When you let an area deteriorate to blight, you’re facing an up-hill battle to recover. It is prudent to stay at the top of your game and continue to improve each day rather than resting on your laurels and watching things slowly fall apart and then act out of desperation.

Rodriguez: Overland Park is clearly attractive to new and expanding businesses. I believe most commercial development will happen organically & without the gift of a tax incentive. I’m not against tax incentives if they are part of a larger strategic plan to revitalize an area of the city that needs revitalization or to fill a void/need we have within our community, but I AM against giving away tax incentives to commercial developers on multi-million dollar developments when it’s at the expense of our residents and/or our basic needs.

I believe in balanced development; however, reinvesting in our core infrastructure and public services/amenities should be our PRIORITY. I want to preserve Overland Park and ensure it’s an exceptional city that residents and business owners are proud of. I believe the over-abundance of new commercial development over the last few years is beginning to erode the quality of life for residents. Like many of you, I’ve recently lost several wonderful neighbors who moved to Prairie Village, Leawood or Lenexa where they believe offer a greater value for their money. We can’t change things if we don’t acknowledge them, so let’s make the necessary changes and retain our residents.

In the short-term, the over-abundance of tax incentives provided to commercial developers has negatively impacted our budget and long-term, could be detrimental to the financial health of our city. There should be sufficient funds in the budget to adequately staff the number of first responders needed for a city of our size, afford higher quality streets, curbs/ sidewalks or add additional traffic lights as needed without raising our taxes.

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

Goodman-Long: No one I’ve talked to likes chip seal. Accordingly, I am awaiting the Public Infrastructure Task Force’s report, which will analyze the use of chip seal and compare it to other methods. The problem is that chip seal is the most economical and longest lasting process for preserving streets. The other methods (MBAs and slurry seal) are more expensive and have a shorter useful life. Hopefully, the Task Force will come up with recommendations that phase out chip seal and replace it with a more popular process without the need for a tax increase.

Passer: No one likes chip seal. Let me be very clear. NO ONE likes chip seal. Chip seal is a low cost alternative to a more desirable way to pave roads. A saying that I like is “we can do anything… but we can’t do everything”. Overland Park has one of the lowest property tax rates in the region, we have the best amenities in the area by far with Deanna Rose, our parks, trails, community centers, the Arboretum, etc. And when the city hit financial challenges during the recession in 2011, a decision was made to expand the use of chip seal as a cost cutting measure.

As the economy has recovered, the savings in how we pave roads have been used for other programs and services that have added value to our city. So, the net result is we need to find a way to pay 20 million dollars per year against a 300 million dollar budget to afford better roads if a change is going to be made. I’m committed to help explore options on the best way to pay for these improvements – but forethought and planning are required to make sure this change is successful.

Rodriguez: I DO NOT support the city’s decision to continue using chip seal on residential streets. I’ve advocated for a higher quality material since it was applied throughout our neighborhood. Since August 2014, I’ve increased awareness of this substandard material by speaking at Public Works Committee meetings, participating in public comment opportunities at City Council meetings and engaging the local TV/media.

In April 2021, I launched grass-roots effort to partner with dozens of other HOAs to approach the city as a unified voice. That effort resulted in obtaining signatures from the presidents of 24 HOAs on behalf of 5,132 residents asking the city to discontinue applying chip seal on our neighborhood streets.

In May 2021, I asked City Council to revisit the previously approved 2021 budget and identify which projects could be moved to the 2022 budget (or beyond). If they were unable to free up enough funds to replace the 151 lane miles scheduled to receive chip seal this summer, I urged them to do less and do them right. Prioritize which streets can’t afford to be deferred to 2022 and resurface those with UBAS or HMA Ultra-Thin Asphalt.

Every year, the city acknowledges chip seal as the #1 complaint from residents. And every year, despite the known risks of seriously injuring children and causing extensive car/motorcycle damage, most council members continue to approve it. It’s frustrating that our city hasn’t prioritized this issue, like every other city in Johnson County, and found a way to afford something better WITHOUT raising our taxes.

This summer, the city plans to apply chip seal to 151 miles of residential streets. When you compare the cost of applying chip seal to those streets for $2.9M ($19,700*151) vs a higher quality material like such as HMA Ultra-Thin Asphalt for $5.5M ($36,747*151), it’s a difference of $2.6M. I’m confident funds could be reallocated in our $300M annual budget to absorb this modest incremental cost.

Although I’m disappointed it has taken more than 7 years to capture the attention which this matter deserves, I’m pleased its now a hot topic with our elected officials and candidates. I’m optimistic that the city will make this a priority and replace chip seal with a better, smoother and safer material. 

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