On the ballot: Meet the candidates vying for the Olathe City Council Ward 3 seat

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OLATHE, 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. 

The race to represent the 3rd Ward on the Olathe City Council will be one of the largest in the Johnson County primary election. The five candidates asking for voter support include Larry Brown, LeEtta Felter, Dustin Fuller, Wayne Janner and Benjamin Nogueras Jr.

Though Luciana Ortega-Garcia will be listed on the primary ballot, she told FOX4 she’s no longer running for office. FOX4 did not receive a response from Wayne Janner. Here’s what the other candidates had to say: 

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

Brown: Accountability to the citizens of Olathe. Our tax money should be used to fix our streets, sidewalks and less should be spent on artwork.

Felter: Implement the strategic plan “Olathe 2040: Future Ready” of which my top three priorities are:

(1) Exceptional Services-To provide high quality services efficiently. We must continue to improve our services and to be responsive to the needs of our citizens.

(2) Infrastructure-To provide a smart, connected, integrated, innovative infrastructure that is safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable.

(3) Economic-To remain an economic leader in the region, our strong economic base should be built by attracting and fostering highly successful businesses of all sizes, entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, a vibrant downtown, and other attractive places throughout the community.

Fuller: In regards to the top priority policy issue for the City of Olathe, I want my constituents to have a voice and a platform to ensure its alignment is within our city values.  In this pandemic era, I feel our priority should be the safety of our children, its faculty and all facilities in the Olathe School District, by ensuring there are adequate means to provide for all safety measures.  

Benjamin Nogueras, Jr. Olathe City Council Candidate, Ward 3

Nogueras: My top policy issue is managing growth with fiscally responsible leadership, while embracing the complete intent of the Olathe 2040 Strategic Plan. This focus involves a variety of policies and initiatives. Olathe remains on an increasing, upward, growth trajectory, as it has for the past 20+ years. It is estimated that Olathe will continue to grow with the addition of 2,000 new residents every year. People are moving to Olathe because we [have a] great school district, great jobs, great business climate, and a great community.

We should always maintain everything that is good about 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?

Brown: At this point I am not sure how council members could help with affordable housing. 

Felter: Every growing city in the United States faces the issue of affordable housing shortage. We find ourselves facing a perfect storm following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the need for affordable housing growing daily AND the price of housing on pace to set historic records.  In Johnson County, Kansas we have a general housing shortage in addition to an affordable housing shortage.

The Olathe Housing Authority provides subsidized housing in the form of public housing and Section 8 vouchers.  The demand for subsidized housing far outpaces the supply.  

Affordable housing matters because it impacts the availability of a workforce for our local businesses, and we want the children that are raised in Olathe to be able to remain here as they grow and become independent and raise families of their own.  

Dustin Fuller Olathe City Council Candidate, Ward 3

While there is no magic wand here, there are creative public/private partnerships that have had success in ensuring affordable housing is available, as well as policies that increase local incentives and local accountability for accommodating more affordable housing development.  With the price of land, development costs, and lately even the price of lumber, this is a persistent issue that isn’t going away without intentional strategies. I look forward to working collaboratively with our county, state and federal governments as well as local nonprofit organizations and businesses to creatively make housing attainable.  

Fuller: As far as the housing increases in Olathe, I feel there are options our council can take into consideration. As a city, it is very difficult to control market land prices, but I also feel there is a way to make our planning requirements easier. 

Nogueras: The City Council must take a leadership role in encouraging the development of housing that serves the diverse needs of the many family dynamics of our community. It is very important to support the recommendations made by the Johnson County Housing For All Task Force. For example, the City can modify the Uniform Development Ordinance and Zoning rules to allow for the development of smaller sized lots.  The City can also waive certain development fees. Doing this does not lower the quality of construction, what it does allow the residential development community to do, is 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? 

Brown: The budget should focus on our citizens, I don’t think that tax breaks should go to construction companies, because I feel that cost savings always come at the expense of the taxpayer.

 LeEtta Felter  Olathe City Council Candidate, Ward 3 

Felter: I am grateful for the transparency in the budgeting process that has been the tradition in Olathe. I would like to see the city budget lined up with our strategic plan Olathe 2040: Future Ready, so that the public can see how the budget dollars are being invested to accomplish their vision for the future. I would expect Olathe to continue to use data-driven best practices in the management of Olathe. Olathe is governed under strong financial management, with strong financial policies and practices. We should continue strong budgetary flexibility with a slight operating surplus in the general fund.

Fuller: I would like more transparency to the budget and decisions that are made to future developments in our neighborhoods. I also appreciate raising my family in a safe environment, therefore support local police and fire departments. I would love to see the proper amount of law enforcement needed and fire houses for a growing community.

Nogueras: I feel that the prioritization and budgeting process must be transparent at all times. This is especially important for Capital Improvement Projects prioritization. Olathe’s FY22 proposed budget is in excess of $450 Million; the budget is complex and the City is a big business. The budget is balanced and aligned to spending priorities. Budgeting workshops should be well-advertised and open to the public.  

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?

 Larry Brown Olathe City Council Candidate, Ward 3

Brown: I believe this has the same answer as the above questions. We already have high enough taxes and property assessment. I am not a politician, I feel like some have been on City Council too long to still be considered a servant leader. I have been personally affected by some of the biased corruption in our city and would like to be able to end some of those things.

Felter: Managing a growing city like Olathe in ways that support and drive economic growth while safeguarding resources and maintaining our competitiveness requires intentional management of growth and redevelopment. Targeted public-sector investment may be required to attract business to Olathe. Olathe should forge connections between businesses, investors, and talent by by holding regular conversations with industry leaders and citizens. We need to foster a culture of growth in Olathe with the City embracing strategic development that takes into account regional growth and cooperation of surrounding municipalities and regional service providers. We must be flexible.

Fuller: My views on TIF’s, CID’s IRB’s and neighborhood revitalization is a very simple one. They can all be great tools that are at the City of Olathe’s disposal for the appropriate times needed.

Nogueras: I understand that the topic of tax incentives can be one of complicated measures, when it comes to commercial development; so I take the following stance: I am for programs or incentives that support the growth of our city in a positive and effective way. I am not for tax incentives that negatively impact our city or leaves us with a bill that is unnecessary and unsustainable.

If there is a tax incentive that positively generates job growth, brings business opportunities, increases city value, and is a win, win, for everybody, then I am open to such opportunities. 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 my opinion that the process of determining the potential for development incentives be entirely transparent. Our city tends to embrace growth, proactively encourages and steers it. The continued growth of Olathe; residential, commercial, and industrial offers the perfect formula for the continued prosperity of all Olatheans. I feel that our city should 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 a brighter future for Olathe. All growth must be managed to enhance the existing fabric of Olathe. 

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