By Leilani Haywood
Candidates for Lee’s Summit City Council agree that ensuring pay for city workers is sustainable without dipping into the reserve fund as well as looking for new revenue streams are the biggest challenges for the city. The candidates shared their backgrounds and priorities at the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum on March 14, 2018 at the Missouri Innovation Campus. The candidates are: incumbent Diane Forte and Robert Dye for District 1; incumbent Trish Carlyle and John Elkin for District 2; Jose “Beto” Lopez and incumbent Diane Seif for District 3; Casey Crawford and incumbent Fred DeMoro (2 years) for District 4; and “Madonna” Donna Gordon and Bob Johnson for District 4.
Incumbents Carlyle, DeMoro and Forte agree that compensation for city and public safety workers needs to be addressed in a sustainable manner with new revenue streams for the city with the downward trend in retail and franchise taxes.
Elkin, an engineer, said, “Our biggest challenge facing city is dealing with employee pay and the reserve fund. We need a reserve fund and we need to determine where we need to cap this out to make sure we have that amount of money in it. Have to have a plan to repay it.” Carlyle agreed saying, “When we talk about employee compensation, I believe it needs to be taken care of. Where I differ is we need to find a revenue stream that can take care of it instead of reaching into reserve fund to take care of it one time. We need to identify a revenue stream for growth in public service.”
Crawford, an attorney, said “You have to have sustainable growth, you can’t be too risky as a city. Can’t make policy on the short term that could harm the city long term.” DeMoro said he had a top three list that included public safety, economic development and infrastructure improvement. “We have a problem and have started talking about compensation. We have a problem retaining and recruiting public safety workers to come to our city and work. As compensation develops, revenue streams need to be identified.”
District 3 Councilwoman Seif agreed saying, “One of the biggest challenges we have right now is one that will bite us. Franchise taxes are going down, retail sales taxes are going down and we must identify cost savings that need to be handled to have compensation for employees to be in place.” However, her opponent, Lopez, said, “All of these are elements of two of our biggest problems which is our tax base and dysfunctional leadership.”
Lopez is an area commercial lending manager for Community America Credit Union. “We have a misperception about economic development and what’s the right way and wrong way. I don’t think the expertise exists within the council,” he said. “I think the tax base and dysfunctional leadership are our biggest problems.”
City Councilwoman Forte said she wished city leadership was “more proactive instead of reactive. Our revenue is streaming down because of retail and online sales and we have to get a grasp on that.” Her opponent, Dye, a retired banking executive and former board member of the Raintree Homeowners Association said he gave a formula that worked for the City of Liberty to the administration in Lee’s Summit. “I’ve got another formula that is a no-tax increase that would work well, based on increasing revenue the last five years,” he said. “Revenue has been up and this basic formula has no backsliding for compensation of employees.”
Former long-time Councilman Johnson said, “Compensation is an important issue. Our employees on the street are the most important. District four lost an ambulance (service) for several months and it is not fun.” Johnson served Lee’s Summit City Council for 12 years until April 2016. The Lee’s Summit City Charter’s term limits didn’t allow him to run for another term. Johnson is a former school board member who has also served in both houses of the Missouri State Legislature.
Gordon, the president of Investment Resources said, “The employees of the city need to be part of the discussion. We need a central vision.” Gordon is also a former managing director of Capital for Manufacturers, a professional finance advisory firm.
Infrastructure, Stormwater Management are Top Priorities
Windy roads that suddenly turn into two lanes with no bike paths, water run off after major storms and empty buildings that sit north of Highway 291 were some of the concerns addressed by the candidates.
“There is a stretch between Anderson and Lakewood that doesn’t look good,” said Lopez. “We’ve said that this is a Kansas City problem but we need to address those issues. I would bring a regional perspective.” He added that addressing flooding in the Oakridge neighborhood from water runoff would be a priority. Seif agreed that public works and stormwater is an issue. “We have an inadequate fire station that needs to be updated which isn’t meeting the needs for citizens,” she added.
Forte said transportation is a challenge with older homes in the downtown area in her district and new homes in Saddlebrooke and Drumm Farm. “The 291 interchange will be great for us,” she said. “What we’re doing in the downtown area shows that infrastructure is a challenge.” Her opponent Dye said that stormwater flooding west off Todd George Road was a concern as well as a land fill behind a school that was a “touchy issue.”
For District 4, Gordon said, “Overall as we’ve grown the roads have not necessarily kept pace with the growth. Looking at large multi-family developments we need to figure out if this is the future of Lee’s Summit. There needs to be a broader community discussion with a lot more input.” Her opponent Johnson said stormwater erosion that’s east of Highway 291 needs to be addressed. “At a minimum we need a city-wide plan on how we’re going to deal with storm water erosion,” he said. “We need redevelopment on 291 north. We’ve had six restaurants that have closed.”
Crawford agreed with Johnson saying that there were blighted areas of 291. “There is a vacant Taco Bell building for many years now and that building is only suited for a Taco Bell,” he said. “There has been divisiveness in District 4 and I would bring a fresh perspective to mend fences and bring people back together.” DeMoro said he was also concerned about the north Highway 291 corridor with empty buildings and restaurants. “We have mitigating stormwater issues with several tributaries and streams that flow into stormwater that are privately owned,” he said. “We have a capital improvement tax of $25 million earmarked for stormwater and maintenance.”
In District 2, Elkin said there were a lot of narrow, windy, hilly roads. “You don’t know if the is car is coming towards you and there is no shoulder,” he said. “We need more bike trails and wider roads.” His opponent Carlyle agreed that infrastructure and stormwater runoff and erosion was a major problem for the city. “My priorities would be to continue to support the development going on our area and the historic preservation going on in our area,” she said. “It’s important when we talk about what we want in Lee’s Summit for 30 years that we need to preserve our history.”