A former Roeland Park city councilman had some words of advice Monday for the current council about the consequences of losing the city’s Walmart: “You shouldn’t be alarmed. You should just realize you can no longer spend money the way you have been.”
Although the situation is dire — Roeland Park will lose around $700,000 a year, or about 14 percent of its budget — it is not unprecedented, Roger Cooper said during the time for public comments at the regular meeting Monday.
In fact, there are many similarities with the time a Venture store left the city in the late 1990s while he was on the council, he said.
The budget shortfall will be so serious that Mayor Adrienne Foster has said she’d consider phasing out the 14-person police force and relying instead on the county sheriff’s department. The city also is aggressively pursuing new retailers to replace the sales tax revenues that Walmart has brought in.
Cooper didn’t mention phasing out the police force, but urged the council to look carefully at cutting the benefits of all public employees, including paid holidays, sick pay and the amount it pays for health care.
“My point is, don’t get depressed. We can get the job done,” he said. Cooper is a retired certified public accountant.
“You can eventually get everything you want, you just can’t get it now.”
A ballot measure for a three-quarter cent sales tax increase was rejected Nov. 6.
Cooper was the only person to speak at during the comments, but another of the five audience members said afterward she would be disappointed if the police force were eliminated.
“I fully and strongly support the police department and would be sorry to see them go,” said Sheri McNeil of Roeland Park. “They do an amazing job.”
Foster did not respond directly to Cooper, but said afterward that “everything is on the table.” The city has already been cutting employee benefits for the past two years. For instance, the city used to pay 100 percent of medical and dental costs for employees’ family members, but now it’s paying around 83 percent, she said.
While some council members have reported negative comments from constituents about the potential loss of the police department, she said she has heard mostly positive things.
In other news, council members Bill Art and Betsy Mellor announced they would not seek re-election next year.