Archive for Thursday, April 2, 2009

Water, expanding tax base, downtown on Anderson’s thrid-term agenda

April 2, 2009

Dave Anderson said the city has accomplished much in his eight years as mayor, but it was the urging of others that he see through a number of projects before the city that convinced him to seek another four-year term.

“I had a lot of friends and community leaders ask me to continue what we started to diversify the tax base, create a wholesale water district served by the Sunflower (water) plant and downtown revitalization,” he said. “They were the ones who came to me, and that would require another term. So I said yes.”

Among the accomplishments of the past eight years were the opening for the De Soto Aquatic Center, construction of a new sewer plan, upgrades to Lexington Avenue and 83rd Street, creation of west area and 95th Street land-use plans, opening of Riverfest Park, development of the city’s first capital improvement plan and the hiring of its first professional city administrator, Anderson said.

The list was accomplished with little or no increase to the mill levy, Anderson said. The mill levy of that part of the city served by the De Soto Fire Department is less than 2.5 mills in higher 2009 than when he took office while that served by Johnson County Fire District No. 3 is actually slightly less, he said.

Anderson also noted the city’s A bond rating, which he said was rare for a city De Soto’s size, and the healthy year-end balances that will help the city weather revenue shortfalls in the recession year.

Also of note, Anderson said, was the industrial properties coming off abatement in the next four years. That would allow the city to maintain services while offering property tax relief, he said.

“It will allow the city council to do just that,” he said. “In this environment, that’s almost unheard of.”

Water, downtown revitalization and economic development would be among his top priorities in the next four years, as well be seeing a conclusion to the merger of the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Fire District No. 3, Anderson said.

“I want to see that go forward,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest things we’ve done.”

Also pressing is the effort to create a partnership with neighboring jurisdictions to share in the upgrade and operation of the water treatment plant at Sunflower the city will own when its declared environmentally clean, Anderson said.

Although he favored exploring a wholesale water purchase agreement with the city of Olathe because of what the cost of upgrading the Sunflower plant might mean to rates, he started discussions with nearby water districts and cities about partnering in the Sunflower plant before the city council made the decision to upgrade it, Anderson said. He also invited a representative from Larkin and Associates to talk the council about wholesale districts that engineering firm was involved with.

“We have to be right on this,” he said. “Everybody has an interest. It’s important to keep that momentum going. We don’t want to let that go down.”

Anderson said he remained convinced the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, now being cleaned of pollution by Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C. in anticipation of development, should one day be part of De Soto.

“I’ve had numerous county commissioners tell me the same thing,” he said. “It’s the mayor’s responsibility to keep in contact with the developer. You have to keep in front of the county, not just our commissioner but all commissioners and the chair. You have to maintain good relations with the state, too.”

The council’s decision to upgrade the water plant added emphasis to the need to revitalize old-town De Soto, Anderson said, because De Soto’s growth area is within the service area of Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6.

Although the focus on downtown redevelopment has been on the $600,000 to $900,000 streetscape improvement of the two downtown blocks of 83rd Street, the downtown revitalization plan the council approved in 2007 envisions public-private redevelopment of the old-town core between Kill Creek and the Kansas River east of Ottawa Street, adding residential and commercial development to the area, Anderson said.

“It’s not a street plan, it’s a concept,” he said, adding that it could be three years before the city was in the position to undertake the downtown streetscape upgrade.

Anderson said the overall downtown revitalization concept was to market what De Soto already had and other communities try to create through what’s called new urbanism. The movement attempts to create traditional pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with higher density, alleys and mixed uses.

Riverfest Park was part of that effort and is meant attract visitors off the highway to downtown and spend money while here, Anderson said.

“We don’t have a lot of retail but with that attractiveness, it will come back,” he said. “It makes all the sense in the world to take what you have in old-town and work with it.

“Do you want to be known as the McDonalds’ exit or do you want to be known for Riverfest Park and downtown?”

Another part of the effort was the city council’s adoption last year of zoning codes that relax setback, fencing, density and other regulations to conform with traditional neighborhoods and business district rather than new suburban subdivisions or strip malls, Anderson said.

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