Archive for Thursday, February 20, 2003

Candidates make late pitch as primary looms

February 20, 2003

The nine candidates seeking the three expiring City Council seats agreed on one issue at a Sunday forum at the De Soto Senior Center -- the city needs economic development to offset high property taxes.

The community's property taxes are high because of the explosive growth in the Shawnee portion of De Soto USD 232, candidate Mitra Templin said at the forum sponsored by the Willow Springs FCE. With that development pattern, the city's priority should be commercial and industrial development, she said.

"We can't encourage explosive residential growth," she said. "We need to invest in infrastructure that will encourage economic development."

Templin and Richard Brazukas suggested two investments that would keep downtown viable. Brazukas said some kind of riverfront park that connected to the current Kill Creek Streamway Park -- which the county planned as part of a future countywide network -- could stimulate downtown.

"A park is not a star, but it could stimulate something," Brazukas said.

Templin, who served as chairwoman of the De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission's pool committee, also suggested a new swimming pool at the Community Center could contribute to the city's economy. The City Council is considering asking voters to approve a bond issue that would build a new pool at either the Community Center or at De Soto High School.

"The pool would be an economic engine needed to keep downtown vital," Templin said. "When people come to De Soto to use the pool, they will buy gas and spend other retail dollars here that will provide the city sales tax revenue."

Ron Crow also endorsed a new swimming pool.

"We need more things for kids to do, such as a new swimming pool or skate park," he said. The city should also improve the safety of streets and sidewalks by adding more streetlights, Crow said.

Betty Cannon remembered how De Soto businesses prospered during Sunflower's active periods when the town had two grocery stores and stores offering retail items and services residents now have to leave town to get.

"We're going to see growth," she said. "We need to structure that growth. We need to work to get economic development so we can have businesses like when the plant was going."

De Soto's location on the Kansas Highway 10 corridor would bring development, candidate Dave Vigness said. But, he warned it would also bring additional companies seeking tax abatements. The Council needed to remember residents or taxpayers come before outside interests when considering such requests, he said.

Brazukas agreed that De Soto's future was tied to the Sunflower Army Redevelopment Authority, and the city has "almost a right to say how it is developed," Brazukas said.

"The county might be more liability at Sunflower than an asset," Clyde Sanders said. "There are some in the county calling it to be a 9,000-acre nature park. What we need is office buildings and commercial and residential development."

Sanders said as a retiree he would be a full-time councilman.

"Residents like to feel a part of running the city and that their opinions don't fall on deaf ears," he said. "They want their councilmen to follow up on their concerns even if they don't get what they want.

"I intend to do that."

Along those lines, Merle Couch said the Council needed to address little things that if left unattended became big issues. He gave the example of the water department. Couch said his background included 13 years on the board of Johnson County Rural Water District No. 1, including 10 as its chairman, an experience that made him question the accountability of the city's water department. City crews spend a great deal of time fixing leaks "again, again and again," he said, but local contractors can permanently fix a leak with one attempt.

The price of water in De Soto is "exorbitant," Couch said. He wondered if the city was spending water department revenue for other purposes."

Couch questioned the street projects the city will undertake in the coming years as part of the capital improvement plan the Council approved last year. He built streets in the past without asking other city residents to pay for them, he said.

The street projects slated for the next two summers -- a four-block reconstruction of 83rd Street from downtown to Miller Park with new curb and guttering and a 2004 project that will re-mill Lexington Avenue from the east to west Y and provide sidewalks and parking curbs -- will do much to beautify the city, Zindler said. She and Taylor said the projects would be paid with funds collected from the quarter-cent sales tax city residents approved in 2001.

The two incumbents said the completion of the city's first capital improvement plan last year was one of the Council's significant accomplishments in the last two years. The professionalism of city staff has been greatly improved with the hiring of Greg Johnson as city administrator, who has made the city's financial records more accessible and understandable, Zindler said.

"I'm running for re-election to continue the progress we're making," she said. "What we have done is create a foundation on which the problems can be solved. We are focusing on people, on policies, on process."

Taylor stressed the importance of experience.

"I'm running for my third term," he said. "I think that's important. It takes two years to get the needed background."

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