Growth must be accompanied by questions
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest estimate, De Soto's population has now reached a milestone of sorts. It is estimated that on July 1, 2004, the city had a population of 5,070 people, an increase of 215 from the previous year and the first time it was estimated to exceed 5,000. It continued a trend of moderate growth that has seen the city's population rise by 11 percent, or 476 residents, since the official 2000 census.
De Soto's population increase is unremarkable by Johnson County standards, particularly among cities as large as Olathe, which is closing in on the much larger milestone of 100,000 population and has witnessed a 16.6-percent increase in the last five years. But it contrasts significantly to a census map of Kansas dotted with communities slowly bleeding, or sometimes rapidly hemorrhaging, their populations to the detriment of the tax base, local economy and educational opportunities.
De Soto doesn't have the challenges of those cities losing population, but its residents certainly know that growth brings mixed blessings. It's acknowledged that while De Soto may never approach the 52-percent growth rate recorded by Spring Hill since 2000, it will see a much greater population growth with the completion of the new wastewater plant in early 2007.
The population growth recorded for 2004 and nearly 40 new homes built to support it (a very steady number of housing starts in De Soto in recent years) will provide added tax base to help pay for the new municipal swimming pool. It will also make future monthly sewer and water bills more affordable by providing up-front cash to pay for costly wastewater and water plant upgrades through system development fees charged to new hookups.
Those opposed to growth will see in each new home a step toward an inevitable new school in a district already straining to stay ahead of population growth.
But even the most strident no-growth advocate would have to admit De Soto's current tax base is out of balance. Residential growth is forced to carry too much of the tax load. Unfortunately, we're told that balance will have to become more one-sided before the city catches the attention of the major retailers that can tip the scales in the right direction.
In addition to economic issues, there is concern of growth's effect on the established character of the community and a wholesale transformation of the surrounding environment. Balancing those views is the undeniable infusion of talent that fills our newer neighborhoods and makes community life more engaging.
It can't be said the community has shied away from discussion of the issues. It has been the central theme of local politics since at least the late 1990s, and the De Soto City Council has started on a path different than many of its peers. We support its policy of managed growth but agree questions of its cost must always be asked and answered.