Whether Roeland Park residents re-elect their current mayor or elect a new one, that person is going to be in for a pretty wild ride.
That’s because the city is facing the loss of more than $500,000 — 20 percent of the city’s annual revenue — when Wal-Mart located along Roe Parkway since 1996 moves to Mission.
How to replace those monies in an already tight budget is going to be a tough challenge for the eventual winner. Three candidates — current Mayor Adrienne Foster, Joel Marquardt and Linda Mau — are vying for mayor in Tuesday’s primary. The top two finishers will compete in the April 2 general election.
Foster, whose regular job is as an adviser to Gov. Sam Brownback, said she is running for re-election because she wants to lead the city out of the financial dilemma that came last year when Wal-Mart announced it would close the city’s store.
Foster says she’s the right person for the job.
“I have the energy, experience, skills and vision to provide strong leadership for the residents of Roeland Park, the City Council and city staff,” said Foster, who was elected to the City Council in 2005 and as mayor in 2009. “I am able to make difficult decisions while working with people of different viewpoints.”
Already some of Foster’s solutions are creating waves. She suggested last year that the city could ax some departments such as the police department and building inspections by paying Johnson County government to take over.
One of Foster’s focuses will be on bringing in new business to replace the revenue, she said. Last fall there was an attempt to increase the sales tax, but voters by a slim margin said no.
Besides the Wal-Mart dilemma, Roeland Park needs to fix its aging infrastructure and pull in new business. She said she has a four-year plan that will address the city’s issues.
Foster, who calls Roeland Park “the best little town in town,” says her experience on the council and as mayor has well prepared her to lead the city through its newest difficulties. She says she has a good working relationship with the staff and the City Council.
“I have emphasized maintaining the quality of our roads, sidewalks and the quality of life for all residents,” she said. “The bottom line is that we will continue to be required to do more with less, and that is tough to do.”
Joel Marquardt, an architect responsible for many unique metal sculptures in the area, has spent years chairing multiple committees in Roeland Park and has gotten to know the people and the issues. Marquardt said the current leadership is not moving in a direction that would benefit the city, and that is why he is running for office.
A big problem is communication with the public, Marquardt said.
Development projects have been rushed without proper public input. A one-shot sales tax to replace lost Wal-Mart revenue was not communicated to the public, and many citizens didn’t understand it, he said.
Preliminary solutions for the projected revenue loss, such as axing city departments, have been shared with the media before they were thought out, he said.
“This led to undermining the confidence of our city employees and compromised our relationships with neighboring municipalities,” Marquardt said.
The most important issues that Roeland Park needs to address, Marquardt believes, include Wal-Mart’s departure, the old pool site, the old cloverleaf at Johnson Drive and Roe Boulevard and the community center.
Future budget shortfalls because of lost revenue may be solved using a myriad of tools, he said.
“I am not sure that a single-pronged approach, such as cutting out an entire city department, will be the right answer,” Marquardt said.
Marquardt said he brings 28 years of education and work experience in management, planning, development, architecture and engineering to the table. He has worked with the city over the last eight years analyzing the city’s properties.
Mau, a former councilwoman, says she decided to run for office again because she is deeply worried about the city’s financial system and what that means for the economy and the community.
Mau, a longtime community activist, said that for the past seven years, the city had taken actions “that put us perilously close to extinction.”
Current city practices discourage compromise, transparency and thorough vetting, she said, and decisions have been recklessly and hastily made.
“Tackling these problems will require a degree of sacrifice impossible under the existing policy process,” Mau said.
The main issues include bringing fiscal responsibility, economic growth and much-needed jobs, especially in light of the Wal-Mart loss.
One way to bring more economic development would be to improve the city’s tax structure so that businesses can thrive.
Mau said she was against cutting the police department and privatizing public works to shore up the budget. The community center is an important part of the city and needs to be protected.
In addition Mau said there needs to be more transparency for residents. Last month it came to light that the city had plans to raze the current community center to make way for low- to moderate-income senior housing and a new community center. Residents were outraged that the plan had not had any public input or a bidding process.
Mau often is outspoken on issues at council meetings, and at the Feb. 6 meeting, she told the council, “The process hasn’t been transparent. There’s been no input from the community.” The council reversed itself and rejected the project.
To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.