Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2001

Candidates rank issues as election nears

March 22, 2001

Three of the final four contesting DeSoto's March madness agreed that water in on the minds of voters.

DeSoto City Council candidates Max Atwell, Jim Cannon and Tim Maniez said the issue most often mentioned by residents over the past two months was water. The fourth candidate, Emil Urbanek, identified Oz Entertainment Co.'s plans for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant or streets as the issues most on the minds of the electorate, but he added water wasn't far down the list.

Soon after the two winning candidates in the April 3 election are seated next month, the city council will have to make a decision on how DeSoto will meet its water demand this summer. The city's current water plant was forced to operate over its designed capacity last summer and the same problem could well occur this year.

The water treatment facility the city leases at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant could produce more than enough water to meet DeSoto's needs, but there is no distribution line connecting the Sunflower plant to the city. The city is exploring the installation of a temporary aboveground waterline from Clearview City to the Sunflower Learning Center as a way to meet this summer's demand.

Another possible short-term solution is a temporary agreement to buy water from Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6, the city of Olathe or other provider.

Incumbent Maniez was the only candidate to strongly endorse the later solution.

"Mark Crumbaker (manager of Water District No. 6) said they could provide water without a lot of expense," Maniez said. "Anytime you do something temporarily, you want to do it as cheap as you can."

Atwell, Cannon and Urbanek cited the need for the city to develop an independent and reliable source of water as the reason they prefer installing the temporary line.

"I think the more attractive solution is the above-ground line," Urbanek said. "I don't know if Olathe would have the extra capacity during a pinch."

The Sunflower water treatment plant offers is the long-term solution to the city's water needs, Atwell, Cannon and Urbanek said.

"It is the cheapest and best deal," Cannon said.

Upgrading the Sunflower water treatment plant to serve Oz's first-phase needs will cost an estimated $5.5 million. Maniez said the city can't place its taxpayers at risk for those improvements. The city needs a commitment from Oz it will be a long-term customer and third-party financial guarantees securing its obligations, Maniez said.

Johnson County has received those kinds of safeguards for the road improvements it will make at Sunflower, Atwell said. He would demand the company give provide the same protection to DeSoto. But Atwell said improvements at the Sunflower treatment plant aren't dependent on Oz.

"I think there are a lot of communities to the south that would either buy water or partner with us at Sunflower," he said. "If we have the Sunflower plant and can offer water, I think they'll come to us."

The candidates agreed water is just one of the infrastructure issues the next city council will confront. Urbanek and Atwell said to do so, the city must adopt a long-term capital improvement plan with a priority list of foreseen infrastructure projects.

"We should have at least a 10-year plan," Urbanek said. "We should know where we're going and what we're going to need to spend."

With sewer, water and street improvements needed, Atwell and Urbanek also agreed the city should increase its excise tax and sewer and water connection fees to new development a move that would make it more compatible with neighboring Johnson County cities.

Cannon, however, said an excise tax increase and higher connection fees would slow development.

"Eventually, we'll have to come up, but we're high enough right now," he said.

Atwell and Urbanek both favor raising connection fees, noting the higher rates charged by Gardner, Lenexa and Shawnee haven't slowed growth in those towns.

"People are going to move here even if our fees become a little higher," Urbanek said. "Maybe they don't need to be as high, but we should keep them at 80 to 90 percent of those other communities."

Maniez said the city should rethink the incentive packages it offers to new industries before it considers raising connection fees.

"What good does it do to raise fees if we give everything away?" he asked, noting that the city waived connection fees for Intervet Inc. while agreeing to extend streets, water and sewers the company's future campus.

"I think we're to the point we don't need to offer incentives," he said. "We're on the K-10 corridor in Johnson County that is in great demand."

DeSoto can become very choosy if Oz is approved, Maniez said. At that time, the city will have to learn to say no, Urbanek said.

Residents have expressed concern about the effect of the proposed Oz theme park on the traffic and noise in DeSoto, Urbanek said. The city doesn't have a voice in the Oz decision, but it could regulate growth in DeSoto that the theme park stimulates.

"We have the K-10 overlay district, but we're always making exceptions," he said. "We need a set of guidelines we strictly enforce. If we don't, we going to end up with a hat and T-shirt shop right off K-10. I don't think that's what we want."

Maniez remains skeptical about Oz, but Cannon and Atwell endorse the company's proposal.

"It gets Sunflower cleaned up to residential standards," Cannon said. "With the donation of park land and the public benefit donations, I think Oz is our best bet."

City voters can mark their ballots for two of the four candidates during the general election April 3. The two candidates with the most votes will be sworn in at the following city council meeting.

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