Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2009

Council hopefuls address economic development issues

February 26, 2009

With its decision last Thursday to renovate the Sunflower water treatment plant, the De Soto City Council may have changed the character of this year’s campaign for two open city council seats.

The issue of the city’s future water source was front and center at a candidate forum Feb. 18, the evening before the council made the decision.

But with the De Soto Economic Development Council sponsoring the forum with the Johnson County League of Women Voters, questions from the moderator focused on economic development issues. Candidates were asked about the use of incentives to attract business, what kinds of commercial or industrial opportunities the city should recruit, ways to stimulate housing and what could be done to improve the quality of life to make the city more appealing to potential residents and businesses.

About 50 residents attended the forum at Lexington Trails Middle School.

Nine of the 11 candidates for the two seats attending the forum — John Krudwig and Stephanie Weaver were unable to attend — identified water as one of the three most important issues facing the city. But there were differences expressed on how the council should address it.

Kevin Honomichl said the decision to purchase wholesale water from Olathe or to renovate the Sunflower water treatment plant should be a business decision.

Stating opposing views were Ron Crow, Bob Garrett, Danny Lane, Ronnie McDaniel and W.R. Sam Tyler — all supporters of the city upgrading the Sunflower water plant.

Garrett said he was running for the council because of his concerns about buying water from Olathe.

“You’re at their mercy,” he said. “In a severe drought, Olathe is going to take care of itself before De Soto.”

On a detail that proved important to the council the following night, all nine candidates were in agreement the city should keep its water rights.

Economic Development

In response to the question about the kinds of businesses the city should attempt to attract, Rick Walker suggested those in the biosciences as was recommended in a 2003 De Soto Economic Development Council targeted industry study. That call was repeated by Crow, Everett, Honomichl, Pickert and Tyler, who added warehouse and light industrial.

Everett said the city should look to the service sector, which was succeeding in De Soto in contrast to retail. He also called for a more aggressive use of tax abatements, which he maintained were not available to some businesses wanting to locate in De Soto.

Garrett and Tyler argued that taxes were too high in De Soto and excessive rules and regulations created a difficult business climate.

“We need to back off some of the rules and regulations we have in this town,” Tyler said. “If you own a piece of property you have to go to City Hall to see what you can do with it. We need to back off and get back to the old-town ways.”

The rate of one tax, the city’s excise tax on new development, was singled out by Tyler, who said it was too high and it should be reconsidered.

Honomichl, who has been responsible for implementing some of those regulations as a member and chairman of the De Soto Planning Commission, made a counter argument that good planning helped build an attractive community that attracted new residents.

Also important in the city’s quality of life were public safety and parks and recreation programs that got people together and built community, Honomichl said.

Pickert also emphasized the needs for parks and planning to draw new residents to the community. He said the Riverfest Park he designed was part of the city’s greater downtown revitalization plan that would take advantage of the river to draw people to De Soto and spur new retail and residential development to old-town De Soto.

Recent bid openings showed it was a good time to do capital improvements, Pickert said.

Lane suggested the city look to hire a full-time grant writer to make those improvements more affordable.

Completing one phase of the old-town revitalization plan, the planned streetscape improvements of two blocks of downtown 83rd Street, was endorsed by eight of the nine candidates.

The exception was Tyler, who questioned that and other spending priorities of the present city council. He said he didn’t understand the council’s decision to tear down a “landmark” while discontinuing the spring and fall placement of trash dumpsters for community cleanup.

Housing

As for housing, there was the obvious agreement De Soto was struggling with the nationwide housing slump. McDaniel said more senior housing would help provide the rooftops needed to attract retail businesses, an idea Crow, Garrett and Pickert also endorsed. Pickert and Crow went further, with Pickert calling for more mid-range hosing and Crow advocated starter homes and townhouses.

While several candidates cited the need for a grocery story in the city, Rick Walker suggested the city could help form a cooperative such as one that had proved successful in a Missouri community. Such a concept could provide a smaller store that would provide for basics, he said.

Lane said tax incentives could be effective but they should awarded with a demand for good wages and the creation of jobs that hired De Soto residents. Tyler also endorsed those standards for tax incentives.

Honomichl and McDaniel advocated the city become more aggressive in pursuing new opportunities by seeking out those they wanted to attract to the city.

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