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The e-Town Hall is an annual event designed to connect citizens with the City Council during budget development. The 2014 e-Town Hall was held on July 2, 2013. A video and responses to the questions from the event can be found below.
1. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I think keeping the streets safe should be the number 1 priority of the Council. What plans does the City have to ensure that our streets are safe and well-maintained?
Maintaining our streets is a top priority. Olathe has experienced significant growth over the last few decades and as a result we’ve added hundreds of miles of streets which are now aging and must be maintained. The incredibly rapid economic growth we’ve seen over the years has now slowed. Growth will continue, but we don’t expect it to reach that level again in the foreseeable future. Our responsibility is now to maintain what we have appropriately. If we don’t adequately maintain them today, it will cost our taxpayers more in the future. We currently lack adequate funding to fully fund street maintenance without impacting other services such as public safety where we have worked hard to avoid making cuts. Safety of citizens and street safety, improvements and maintenance are the top priorities of the City Council. These priorities are reflected in the City’s proposed 2014 budget, which allocates 67% of the funds to Public Safety and Transportation needs. The City Council will be holding a special meeting on Tuesday, July 9 to discuss options for transportation funding in the City.
The proposed 2014-2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) includes the following street improvement projects, which address safety and capacity needs:
The CIP also includes several projects to maintain our street and bridge infrastructure for the safety of the traveling public.
2. Posted via Open Town Hall: I saw in the City Manager’s Budget presentation that the Recreation Fund is increasing nearly 65%. What is causing this, and how can the City afford such a large increase? I would think there are more important things the City could spend its money on.
The Recreation Fund is completely supported by user fees and charges—not by taxes. The increase accounts for the new Olathe Community Center coming on-line in early summer 2014. The Olathe Community Center will not use tax dollars; rather it will operate with funds from fees paid by only those who use it. It will not compete with key projects supported by local tax dollars.
Building the Olathe Community Center honors a promise the City made to voters when they passed the 0.125% Parks Sales Tax. Voters told the City that a Community Center is where they wanted their money invested.
The Recreation Fund’s Budget includes the following assumptions:
Another new position funded from the Recreation Fund proposed for 2014 is an Officials Program Specialist, which will enhance the quality of sports programming through the Parks & Recreation Department.
3. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I would like for the Council to concentrate on maintaining our current status. Olathe is a wonderful place to live and work, but money should be spent to keep it that way—not on fancy “streetscapes.” When money is tight, upkeep is more important than improvements.
Although the Santa Fe Streetscape project did include improvements to aesthetics, the project also included infrastructure improvements. New pavement surface, curb, and pavement markings were installed on Santa Fe, as well as a section of Cherry. In addition, signals were replaced and a new storm sewer was installed. All of this is maintenance work that needed to be completed due to the age of the infrastructure.
With limited resources, we must continue investing for our future. Projects like the Santa Fe Streetscape are used as economic development tools to encourage significant and sustained development in Downtown Olathe. In addition, if we don’t take steps now, areas of the city—like downtown—can easily become an economic drain on our community. This would have to be subsidized for years by our taxpayers and have a negative economic impact throughout the City of Olathe. By investing in projects such as the Streetscape, the railroad grade separation, and the quiet zone, we can make sure the area remains vibrant and has a positive economic impact that benefits our taxpayers.
4. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I’d like to see some sort of bike/walking trail connector between the Indian Creek and Mill Creek Streamways trails. Right now, the only plausible way of jumping over is to go on 127th street, which is, in several stretches, fraught with peril. What has the City been doing to broaden the bike/walking trails in this location and throughout the City?
Although there are currently no off-road connections across I-35 on 127th St, the City is tentatively planning to prepare a Transportation Master Plan. This will include an evaluation of multi-modal transportation throughout the City. The Public Works department will coordinate the Transportation Master Plan efforts and will be looking to engage the community in this effort. This evaluation will include plans to accommodate bicycles on trails and selected streets within the City and will also look at streamway connections to promote connections between recreational areas.
The Park Sales Tax levied by the City of Olathe has built an additional 11.1 miles of trails for our residents. The 2014-2018 Capital Improvement Plan includes $900,000 allocated for trails, which will supplement any grant funding received to build trails as well as be used to address repair work on existing trails. The Parks and Recreation department continues to apply for funding for trails when possible and is working to expand the trail system in the City.
5. Submitted via Open Town Hall: It is clear that Olathe, KS has become one of the safest cities in the State of Kansas to live in, and without question, we must do everything possible to maintain this record. However, economic development is vital to ensure city safety/crime prevention. How is the City actively engaging and taking advantage of economic development opportunities? What kind of impact does the City expect the completed Santa Fe Streetscape to have on economic development?
We have made a number of strategic investments to attract business and jobs for our community. Economic development and economic growth are essential for us to keep taxes low for our residents.
Traffic counts along Santa Fe and I-35 approach 50,000 vehicles per day. The impact of the completed Santa Fe Streetscape project and downtown economic development tools, like the Olathe Neighborhood Revitalization Area benefit, is to encourage significant and sustained development and redevelopment in downtown Olathe.
We have already seen recent substantial redevelopment activity along Santa Fe. Just west of I-35 and Santa Fe, Robert Brogden Auto Plaza and Capital Federal Savings Bank both completed significant modernizations. Further to the west, at 1100 East Santa Fe, a former Conoco is being renovated into a new convenience store. Less than half a mile to the west of the convenience store, at 588 East Santa Fe, Johnson County recently completed their 47,580 sq. ft. judicial annex. Also, there is an $8.4M renovation to the downtown Dillon’s.
In terms of existing buildings, new professional businesses—like attorneys Hernandez and Roberson and landscape architectural firm, Landworks Studio—are very recent additions to a growing roster of quality downtown tenants. Just blocks to the west of their office building, website development firm Builder Designs is currently completing a significant renovation to their existing building.
As the economy improves, our vision is the Johnson County government and affiliated private businesses will continue to gravitate towards the growing momentum in downtown Olathe.
6. Submitted by Amanda via Facebook: Are there any plans to repave Ridgeview past 119th street to College? There are only so many times those potholes can be refilled before the street needs to be repaved.
Construction on Ridgeview, from 119th Street to K-10 and 164th Street to 175th Street, will begin in late June 2013 and will be completed by October 2013. This project includes a 2-inch asphalt mill and overlay; spot curb replacement, sidewalk ramp installations, and replacement of pavement markings.
7. Submitted via Facebook: I’ve been noticing a number of properties throughout Olathe not abiding by city codes (i.e. grass above 8 inches, boarded up windows, damaged siding, peeling paint, piles of junk, etc.). These are terrible eye sores to our neighborhoods and our City, and I am wondering what the City plans to do to address these issues and ensure that all residents are required to abide by our codes and ordinances?
Our Community Enhancement division responds to all citizen concerns by the following business day, after the complaint is filed. The Community Enhancement division projects that they will respond to over 5,000 complaints in 2013. During the summer months, the majority of cases handled by inspectors are from citizen concerns communicated by either calling our hotline, citizen request form online, emailing an inspector, or calling the Community Enhancement office.
In January of 2013, a full-time inspector was added to staff along with taking a ¾ time employee to full-time to address growing complaints and code enforcement issues. In addition, staff is always evaluating new ideas to streamline the process to bring code violations into compliance in a more timely manner.
Painting and other issues pertaining to houses under foreclosure (if they are not a safety hazard) have to be put on hold until the bank/mortgage company sells the property. Grass over the legal limit will be addressed by an inspector after receiving a call. Debris, inoperable vehicles, parking issues, and other code violations are addressed when a citizen notifies the Community Enhancement office. Each type of violation has a different time frame for compliance, per city ordinance. (Weeds: 5 days, Debris or Inoperable Vehicles: 7 days, Painting or Other issues to the House: 60 days).
The City of Olathe welcomes volunteer groups who want to assist property owners in maintaining their properties. Interested groups can contact the city for opportunities by going to www.olatheks.org/volunteers and to fill out an application.
8. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I would like to know if there are any plans in the making to improve the exit ramp on SB I-35 at 135th street (Santa Fe). The improvements that were made at the 119th exit on SB I-35 were wonderful, and it seems something of the same nature would work wonders at the area of 135th that sees daily congestion.
The 119th St. and I-35 improvements were funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), and the City will coordinate with KDOT to determine whether there are future funds available for improvements. KDOT determines areas of improvement based on need and availability of funds and the City will continue to work with KDOT for partnerships in needed areas.
9. Submitted via Open Town Hall: Resident Katie talks about the fact that she’s disabled and well-educated and would like to be gainfully employed, but transportation is an issue. What do you plan to do for people who must rely on public transportation to get to and from work?
Transit services are primarily provided by Johnson County. Olathe has a long history of also trying to address these needs through the Taxi Coupon Program and other initiatives, but fewer grant dollars are available and services become more and more expensive. It is an ongoing challenge to maintain a transportation program in our community. The City of Olathe coordinates with Johnson County on a regular basis to accommodate and promote transit throughout the City.
The City currently has a work, personal and medical transportation service for program-eligible Olathe citizens (Taxi Coupon Program). The Taxi Coupon Program is provided within the City limits of Olathe only, but there are connections within Olathe to Johnson County public transportation that travels outside Olathe City limits. The cost for this program $3.50 for a one-way trip. Applications for this program are accepted semi-annually, and the next timeframe for accepting applications is July 1st through July 15th. Residents can contact Olathe Housing & Transportation services for more information.
10. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I heard the City maintains a pretty high fund balance/rainy day fund. Why does the City hold onto so much money when it could be used for other things, such as investing in public safety?
Best practices for sound financial management include maintaining an adequate fund balance. This financial management principle is monitored by the bond rating agencies. These results are reflected in lower interest rates, saving the City money that may be used for other services.
The Council’s fund balance policy is 15% of annual revenues with a target of 30%. The City achieved the 30% target in 2012. Thirty percent of revenues (the Council’s target) provide a savings account to operate the City for approximately 4 months, should the City’s revenue stream be impacted. We have seen recent natural disasters that have devastated commercial areas. In addition, the City’s General Fund receives 50% of its revenue from sales tax, a volatile source, and maintaining a 30% fund balance provides the City the financial stability to maintain operations in unforeseen circumstances.
11. Submitted via Open Town Hall: I am a long-time Olathe resident. My concern for Olathe is that so many commercial buildings are empty. What incentives could we use to get businesses to move in and rehab the buildings that are already here, rather than constructing new buildings everywhere? Also, there seems to be many brand new buildings that are not occupied. Who owns these buildings, and is there a way to get the people who own older, vacant business properties to charge less rent so that the older shopping centers will be used rather than abandoned? What plans does the City have in place to encourage business and development in the downtown area around the Courthouse? Additionally, my property value has decreased dramatically in the past few years. What plans does the City have to increase those values?
One goal on Olathe’s Organizational Scorecard is the retention, expansion and attraction of businesses and development that enhance property values, increase personal income, and make a positive contribution to the quality of life of the citizens of Olathe. The Olathe Economic Development Program is based on a cooperative relationship between the City of Olathe and the Olathe Chamber of Commerce, maintaining strong ties with the Johnson County Workforce Partnership, the Kansas City Area Development Council, and the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The City of Olathe has specific economic development tools that assist property owners contemplating improvements and businesses contemplating acquisitions. An example is the Olathe Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) benefit, which provides owners of residential and commercial real estate located north of Old Highway 56, south of Harold Street, east of K7, and west of I-35 with rebates on incremental tax increases for up to 10 years.
GrowOLATHE is an information-driven economic development tool aimed at assisting all companies located in Olathe and companies looking to move to Olathe. GrowOLATHE aims to identify and utilize every tool available to help companies grow. Whether microloans, scholarships, and incubator space for startups; low interest loan programs and training grants for small and intermediate companies; or abatements and incentives for large companies, GrowOLATHE is focused on keeping Olathe companies in Olathe and helping companies grow in Olathe. For companies outgrowing their current space, the program can provide customized reports with on-market and off-market lease and acquisition opportunities. It can help link companies to bankers, builders and brokers. For those companies looking to increase market share, GrowOLATHE can introduce them to potential partners within the Olathe Chamber of Commerce’s network of 1,250 member businesses. GrowOLATHE can provide technical assistance such as database and data mining resources, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), labor referrals, search engine optimization (SEO), social media network mapping and website analysis and development.
There is substantial new construction activity in Olathe as well as substantial rehabilitation activity occurring in Olathe. Just off of I-35 and Santa Fe, Robert Brogden Auto Plaza, Capital Federal Savings Bank, Bud Brown Volkswagon and Olathe Ford have all recently completed or are close to completing significant modernizations. New professional businesses—like attorneys Hernandez and Roberson and landscape architectural firm, Landworks Studio—are very recent additions to a growing roster of quality downtown tenants. Website development firm Builder Designs is currently completing a significant renovation to their existing building a few blocks away. Other examples of recent rehabilitations include the long vacant Gambucci’s Building (Strang line near 119th & I-35), which will open this fall as a specialty grocery store after significant improvements are completed. The Comfort Suites at 119th & I-35 was recently updated and reflagged as a Holiday Inn Express. Canyon Stone (1-35 South) is starting a significant rehabilitation of their 82,000 SF facility and ExxonMobile is completing a $6.5M modernization project.
Community Improvement Districts (CID’s) have been a successful economic development tool for the City of Olathe to encourage redevelopment of outdated retail space, such as with the Hilton Garden Inn which was built on a previously vacant space (old Machine Shed Restaurant) and met a community need for a business class hotel. The City will explore the possibility of using CID’s with owners and developers of commercial property in the future to expedite additional rehabilitation opportunities.
The City of Olathe has similar or lower vacancy rates than the Kansas City metropolitan area. Overall, we have 8% vacancy across 8.2 million sq. ft. of retail space, 7% vacancy across 14 million sq. ft. of industrial space, and 7% vacancy across 3.5 million sq. ft. of office space. The Kansas City metro has 9% vacancy across 114 million sq. ft. of retail space, 7% vacancy across 257 million sq. ft. of industrial space, and 12% vacancy across 114 million sq. ft. of office space.
The City of Olathe does not have the ability to set rental rates for private businesses. However, the City and the Olathe Chamber of Commerce work closely together to provide market data (i.e. rental and wage information) and customized reports (i.e. potential rental and acquisition opportunities) so that owners can make informed decisions about their buildings. Both organizations also work very closely with industry professionals, including architects, bankers, and developers to make sure we are aware of and assist in the relocation and growth of companies already located in Olathe and those seeking to move to Olathe.
12. Submitted via Open Town Hall: Why does the City spend money on a vet clinic, rather than just contracting out with a private business?
Having the vet clinic is actually more economical than contracting out for services, and we are able to provide better veterinary care for all of the shelter animals and city-owned animals. The veterinarian receives an hourly salary, rather than pay per procedure, making her services very affordable and less costly than contracting with a local veterinary office for vet services. In a 4-month comparison of statistics pre-onsite vet clinic versus 4 months of post-onsite vet clinic, the Olathe Animal Shelter shows a 16% decrease in animals euthanized due to serious illness/injury and a 6% increase in adoption. Having an onsite vet dedicated to the animals’ well-being has reduced illness and resulted in healthier, more adoptable animals.
The veterinarian works up to 20 hours per week at the Olathe Animal Shelter, performing examinations on all of the shelter animals, spaying and/or neutering adoptable animals, vaccinating animals, and performing minor surgical procedures for injured animals. She also provides preventive health care, examinations, vaccinations, and minor emergency care procedures for all of the City’s Police K-9, Fire K-9, and the Mahaffie cat. Since the veterinarian provides services for all of the city-owned animals, most of which are expensive, highly-trained bomb, drug, or search dogs, the cost previously paid by the City per visit for vet care at independent veterinary offices or pet hospitals has significantly decreased, and it allows us to consolidate the medical records for these animals all in one location. All of the vaccinations and medications used at the Shelter are either purchased at a low cost in quantity from distributors or are donated to the Olathe Animal Shelter.
In addition to providing better veterinary services, it is the goal of the Olathe Animal Shelter to be revenue neutral or revenue positive. Three times annually, the Shelter hosts clinics to provide low cost vaccination and microchip clinics for Olathe residents and City employees. The benefits include improved animal health in the Olathe community, as well as revenue generated to support expenses related to maintaining a City shelter and providing onsite veterinary services
13. Submitted via Open Town Hall: Why does my water bill go up every year?
Investments in capital infrastructure associated with the Water and Sewer fund are expensive and have long pay back on fixed schedules (debt service). The 2014 budget reflects a $2.3 million increase in debt service to cover investments made to treat and provide potable water on demand as well as collect and treat wastewater, like the expansion at the Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The Water and Sewer Fund is very susceptible to changes in regulation by state (KDHE) and federal agencies (EPA). The Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion that was completed in 2012 required the city to facilitate nitrogen and phosphorous reduction. This unfunded mandate handed down by the EPA added an additional $15-17 million to the cost of the project. An increase in regulated contaminants that must be tested for and monitored has effects on the entire utility, including increasing the amount of staffing time, equipment, maintenance and capital investment required to test and treat the contaminants that were not regulated before.
The rising cost of chemicals, electricity, fuel and other commodities are also driving rates higher. The cost of electricity alone went up $65,000 in 2014, primarily due to a planned increase by the Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), Olathe’s power provider for source and treatment. Other fixed expenses, including pass through payments to Johnson County Wastewater ($276K over 2013) have continued to increase.
In addition, the massive growth of Olathe in the 70s, 80s and 90s is leading to the maturation of large numbers of distribution pipes in the 10s and 20s. In 2012, Olathe had 197 water main breaks, which was the highest number of breaks in at least the last decade. Main break frequency is due to several factors (weather, soil condition, pipe materials, etc.), but the trend of more main breaks is expected to continue as the system ages. The average age of Water Distribution Pipe and Waste Water Collection Pipes in the city are both approximately 25 years old.
The city continues to seek ways to limit the rate of increase in water bills whenever possible. To mitigate costs, staff has utilized different replacement methods, more durable materials and better asset management practices.
14. Submitted via Open Town Hall: How is the City involved in the funding of the new bond issue to build a 5th high school in Olathe?
The City is not involved in funding the new bond issue to build the 5th high school in Olathe. However, the City will collaborate with the school district to ensure that there are adequate streets and infrastructure in place for people to get to and from the school safely.
15. Submitted via Open Town Hall: With the growth on the northwest side of Olathe, east-west connector streets are important for business commerce and work commutes. There are many businesses located along 119th Street in Olathe yet 119th Street does not run continuously to the west to connect the new residential areas. The west side growth is substantial enough that a new high school has been approved to handle the residential growth. When will 119th street be connected from Woodland to S. Nelson Road?
The City is interested in street improvements that relieve congestion on our east-west streets throughout Olathe; however, 119th St, from Woodland to Nelson, is not currently included in our existing or future Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) due to the excessive costs associated with constructing a bridge to cross the railroad tracks and the Mill Creek Streamway. We are planning to evaluate our existing and future street network to prioritize street improvement projects and plan to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness and viability of constructing 119th St. at this location with this evaluation.