Overland Park City Council 2nd Ward candidates address mill levy increase

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In Johnson County, advance voting by mail for the Nov. 2 election begins next week.

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.

Melissa Cheatham and Roger Tarbutton are vying for a seat on the Overland Park City Council to represent the 2nd Ward.

Here’s a look at what they had to say:

Q: What policies can the city adopt to improve transparency and public engagement?

Cheatham: I am committed to both community engagement and transparency. I’ve tried to incorporate community engagement deeply into my campaign. I’ve knocked on the doors of more than 1,000 Ward Two voters. My question is always, “What’s important to you?”

The answers to this question are shaping my priorities and outlook and will inform how I make decisions if elected to the City Council. I hope to carry this spirit of engagement and transparency into my elected life. If we want residents to engage in crafting our community and trust the city’s processes, we need to operate with transparency. As an elected official I intend to conduct myself with integrity and would welcome the opportunity for the public to see my service in action.

Overland Park should be commended for many areas in which it has strong transparency practices, such as making it easy for residents to be notified and view meeting agendas days before meetings, and streaming council meetings including public comment. I do believe there’s room for the city to improve. My ideas to engage and empower residents include recruiting more diverse voices to our volunteer boards and commissions, improving the accessibility of our communications for users with disabilities, providing a way to opt-in to planning notices near your home, and utilizing both participatory budgeting workshops and new technology tools to allow residents to engage in the city’s budget process.

Roger Tarbutton, Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 2 

Tarbutton: As a great deal of city business is currently conducted at committee meetings which often proves to be outcome determinative, the city should implement a public comment period before committee meetings similar to the public comment period implemented at city council meetings.

Q: How can Overland Park improve connectivity and public transportation?

Cheatham: Connectivity is one of my passions. I believe that providing transportation choices addresses a number of challenges at once. If walking, biking and public transportation are convenient and enjoyable, we will see less pollution and cleaner air. More active residents are healthier residents. If residents can forgo some car travel, they are saving money on fuel and we make it more affordable to live here. More transportation choices means fewer cars and less traffic. We’ll also be advancing our goal of being more welcoming to people of different incomes and abilities.

I have already begun the work of improving connectivity and active transportation. In my own neighborhood, I successfully organized my community to improve the crossing of a dangerous, unmarked, busy intersection to access my neighborhood park. I also worked with the PTA at my child’s school to resolve a dispute between two municipalities that, for years, had resulted in no crossing guard to help students get to school. Since we’ve added the crossing guard, we’ve seen far more children walking and biking to school.

As a member of the Overland Park Environmental Advisory Council, I’ve been studying a concept called Complete Streets. While the city has a Complete Streets resolution, it only received a score of 23 out of 100 points in an analysis by the National Complete Streets Coalition. This tells us we have plenty of room for improvement. I am hopeful that the new Infrastructure Advisory Group will consider some of these questions as it begins its work.

Tarbutton: OP should continue to cooperate with regional and local providers of public transportation services such as those currently provided by Johnson County and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority when it is beneficial to OP residents and businesses.

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

Cheatham: Overall, I think the proposed budget reflects our community’s evolving priorities. We operate efficiently, employing among the fewest staff per capita in the county and maintaining a substantially lower property tax rate than our neighbors. This budget begins to fill gaps, including new hires for parks and forestry and $1.6 million to create the new behavioral health police unit, which I support. In addition, it proposes a $1.8 million expansion of the police department, in response to a staffing study. 

Melissa Cheatham, Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 2

The biggest change I would like to see in the city’s budget is in the process used to develop it. I think there is room to more actively gather resident input to help shape the budget process. I’d like to see the city host community workshops in person and use new technology tools to allow residents to interact with budget tradeoffs and priority-setting. 

For example, as I’ve knocked on more than 1,000 voters’ doors, I’ve heard several say they want nicer roads and lower taxes. They welcome my charts showing costs and comparative tax rates and are typically eager to engage in thoughtful discussion. I think we should seek that input more actively.

Tarbutton: In order to staff a behavioral health unit for the OP Police Dept., the city should not impose a 1 mill levy real estate tax increase which will only contribute to unaffordable housing for residents living on fixed incomes. Instead, the budget needs to be reprioritized so that spending on high priority matters such as public safety takes precedence over lower priority matters such as the city owned golf course and soccer complex which generate their own income and are only utilized by a small segment of OP residents.

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