Roeland Park officials will begin looking at staff cuts and the use of city reserves now that residents have narrowly rejected a sales tax increase, while Mission leaders are getting ready to build a new swimming pool, since its voters passed a sales tax increase last week.
Roeland Park residents voted down a ¾-cent sales tax increase, but very narrowly. It failed by only 35 votes, 1,741 to 1,706. Those numbers may change this week as election officials go over the totals and count provisional ballots. But there is no mechanism for an automatic recount and Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster said she did not expect to put the matter up for another vote.
Foster broke a tie vote to put the measure — designed to make up for the shortfall expected when Walmart moves to Mission — on the ballot.
“I voted yes because citizens have the right to vote on it,” Foster said. “But if residents say they don’t want a sales tax increase, we’re not going to do it.”
The sales tax was expected to bring in around $650,000 and would have been effective for 10 years. Total sales tax rates vary within the city. The new tax would have raised the total rate to anywhere from 8.775 percent to 9.925 percent, depending on the area.
The council asked for the tax because of the expected departure of Walmart to a larger store in Mission in 2014. That move could cost the city $700,000, or 20 percent of the city’s revenue.
Roeland Park’s planning is complicated a bit by the fact that Walmart and Mission are still working out the details of the move, Foster said.
Mission is working out the terms of its investment in the project, said Mayor Laura McConwell. The city conducted informational meetings for residents this week on the subject, and a meeting on a Tax Increment Financing district is scheduled for Nov. 27.
If the city and Walmart hit a snag and things are delayed, that gives Roeland Park a little more time to come up with a Plan B for its budget, Foster said. A delay could push some of the shortfall into the 2015 fiscal year, which would make planning easier.
And there’s always the chance that talks could break down. “Walmart has never told us officially they’re leaving because it’s not 100 percent that they’re going,” Foster said.
The city will explore all options: Unspecified staff cuts, a possible mill levy increase or dipping into the city’s $1.2 million in reserves, Foster said.
Foster is encouraged by the fact that the city has sold or is selling property in the vicinity of Roe Avenue and Johnson Drive that will result in four or five new businesses and the revenue they will generate.
“We want to keep property taxes down so people will want to move to Roeland Park,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city of Mission will go forward with construction on a new pool to begin at the end of next year’s pool season and to open in 2014. Voters there approved an additional three-eighths cent on their sales taxes to pay for the pool, which was said to be 10 years past its life expectancy.
The vote was 56 percent to 44 percent in favor of the new pool, which has been talked about for years. The tax is expected to raise $744,000 and would expire in 10 years, bringing the total tax rate in some parts of Mission to as much as 10.15 percent.
“It was a huge relief,” that the issue passed, McConwell said.
The 56-year-old pool was last renovated in 1996 and had deteriorated to the point that continued repairs would exceed the cost of replacing it, officials said.
Now the city council can begin writing the language that authorizes the tax, which will begin April 1, 2013, McConwell said.
The pool had played second fiddle to Mission’s bigger-ticket items for years, McConwell said.
“We can’t keep putting it off. We would have liked to wait until the economy gets better, but we just can’t,” she said.