There is an old joke about a man who heard from God that the world will be covered by a flood in just two weeks. Responded the man, “That gives us two weeks to learn to live under water.”
Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster and her city council will soon attempt to prove they can live under water.
“We will have to remake our city.”
So said the mayor of tiny Roeland Park, population 6,500, located in the northeast part of Johnson County.
Her city of modest homes will take a body blow when Walmart moves from Roeland Park to nearby Mission in a couple of years.
The city will lose $700,000 in sales tax revenue annually out of a budget of $5 million. That 14 percent may be the single biggest hit, percentage-wise, that any city in this community has ever lost at one time.
It is the equivalent of Overland Park losing all the sales tax revenues from all of its car dealers combined, as well as the additional loss of all revenues from Oak Park Mall.
The loss is breathtaking.
Voters had a chance to recoup $630,000 with a three-quarter cent sales tax increase, but that proposal was defeated by a vote of its citizens on Nov. 6 by a 36-vote margin.
The mayor said she has no intentions of increasing the mill levy. “We will cut and find efficiency.”
Foster, who calls herself “aggressive,” is taking a two-pronged approach. She intends to slash the city’s budget, while going after new retailers to fill the Walmart spot, as well as adding other new retailers.
The city now has 30 full-time employees. The police represent about half of the staff.
Foster intends to gradually eliminate the city’s 14-member police force, to be replaced by the county sheriff’s department. One of the biggest costs to the city is the retirement benefits for the police, Foster said. She believes the sheriff can provide equivalent police services and save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning said he has been approached by the mayor, but they have not yet had an in-depth conversation.
The mayor said she would also rely on county government more for such functions as codes and building inspectors.
In the meantime, Foster has ambitious plans for the city.
Already she and her staff have put together drawings for three tenants to split up the approximately 100,0000 square feet of the current Walmart.
Foster said her goal is to have the space filled within a year. That would be, indeed, a real coup. The last big store to leave Roeland Park was Venture. That space took seven years to fill.
The city will also go after four new retailers for other locations, which Foster figures could bring in an additional $100,000 in sales tax revenue.
After a lengthy interview with the mayor, who said she will run for re-election when her term expires in April 2013, I came away convinced she and her eight-member city council will get the job done.
| Special to The Star