Archive for Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stay positive about city, mayor says

February 19, 2009

It wasn’t technically a campaign event, but Mayor Dave Anderson’s State of the City Address last Thursday to the De Soto Chamber of Commerce probably touched on a number of themes residents will hear again the next two months.

Anderson is seeking a third term as mayor of De Soto. His opponent is Randy Johnson, a local businessman who is adding a bid for De Soto mayor to his re-election run for the De Soto USD 232 Position 4 Board of Education seat.

The speech was much the same formula as earlier State of the City addresses Anderson has made to the chamber. He pointed to a number of recent achievements such as the development of a 95th Street Corridor Plan and construction projects like the recent agreement with a private company to build a monopole near the east water tower that will protect the nearly $50,000 year in revenue the city earns in leases. But the theme in his seventh State of the City Address was the value of a positive attitude.

“I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react,” Anderson quoted from a passage of Charles Swindoll. “And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”

Anderson applied that outlook to the city’s taxes.

The city of De Soto’s 2009 property tax levy of 27 mills was the third lowest of the state’s 21 second-class cities, or those with a population of from 5,000 to 10,000 such as Colby, Bonner Springs, Fort Scott and Abilene, Anderson said.

“I hear a lot of times the city of De Soto has high taxes,” Anderson said. “And that’s not true.”

On average, the city charged its residents $46 a month in property taxes to live in the city, Anderson said. Of that, $17 went for fire protection, $11 for law enforcement, $8 for debt service ($6 for the swimming pool and $1.25 for Riverfest Park). The parks and recreation department and streets cost residents $10 a month, he said.

The city’s financial practices and $2.5 million electrical utility fund spurred Standard & Poor’s to improve the city’s bond rating for triple-B to A, a rare move that will save tax dollars as the city retires debt, Anderson said.

“It’s a little town of 5,500 that is doing very well,” he said.

He credited much of the city’s financial health to City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle. Anderson said Guilfoyle was named New Jersey Administrator of the Year for creating a five-year capital improvement plan, which could be updated on a continual annual basis to account for changes in revenue projections, needs and opportunities, Anderson said.

The De Soto City Council adopted a similar plan two years ago at the same time it approved a debt-refinancing plan Guilfoyle and the city’s financial advisors proposed, Anderson said.

The council’s goal in adopting the new capital-improvement practices was to provide for continual improvements using available revenue and without raising property taxes, Anderson said.

That allowed the city to construct the first phase of De Soto Riverfest Park and this year (with the help of $410,000 of Johnson County CARS funding) repave 83rd Street from Kill Creek to the Lenexa city limits.

Anderson said Riverfest Park was a “proven success” after last fall’s opening blues and barbecue event and those events planned for the coming summer. The new park aligned with the city’s downtown revitalization plan, which Anderson said looked to the river to create something unique to Johnson County in De Soto.

The point of the park and the revitalization plan was to make use of the Kansas River to build an identity for De Soto as something other than the McDonald’s exit on Kansas Highway 10, Anderson said.

“Sometime back we started to talk about what is De Soto,” he said. “The river is why we are here.”

Anderson said, however, the planned $700,000 to $900,000 streetscape project of 83rd Street downtown from Peoria to Shawnee streets would probably be postponed when the city council considered the five-year capital-improvement plan again in July. With the recession, there wouldn’t be enough revenue to go ahead with the project next year, he said.

As for the city’s future water source, which Anderson said attracted many of the 11 concerned candidates to the race for two city council seats, the mayor said he had been cautious about investing too much money in the Sunflower water plant that might jeopardize the city’s ability to address other growth needs.

But Anderson said late talks were encouraging about De Soto joining other water jurisdictions in a regional water district supplied by the Sunflower plant. Johnson Country Rural Water District No. 6, which is considering a merger with Johnson County Rural Water District No. 7 to its south, was open to talks regarding the concept, he said.

The two merged water districts would service territory south to Miami County and would include New Century AirCenter near Gardner, Anderson said.

Also on the city’s 2009 agenda was the completion of the unification of the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 for Jan. 1, 2010. The contemplated merger will greatly benefit old-town De Soto, which was having to support the city fire department with a static or declining tax base, Anderson said.

As for future goals, he and the council would like to extend sewer service south of Kansas Highway 10 and develop a new business park, Anderson said.

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