City leaders and citizens switch roles at Roeland Park town hall meeting

ROELAND PARK, Kan. - Tuesday night's Roeland Park's town hall meeting came with a little role reversal.

City leaders became listeners and citizens became council members.

Nearly a dozen groups were tasked with going through the city's budget, deciding what services needed to be cut and how much taxes would need to be raised.

"The main thing about what's going on tonight is how do we spend frivolous spending," Ryan Kellerman of Roeland Park said.

That's the million dollar question as Roeland Park braces for a major budget blow once Wal-Mart skips town and takes with it its $700,000 in annual sales tax revenue.

Right now, the budget calls for a 42 percent increase in property taxes, but some residents are saying no thank you.

"You cannot continue to say that you need to balance the budget on the backs of citizens. It just can't be done.

We have problems just like if the city is having hard times, do you not think that each and every individual citizen is having a hard time as well?" Roeland Park resident Linda Mau said.

But that wasn't the mindset of this mock city council, which was facilitated by Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt.

"The one group that happened to be voted for a much higher mill levy to keep almost all of the city services, which was a bit surprising to me, but that's what the citizens voted on in our group," Marquardt said.

A handful of residents felt instead of raising taxes, the city should cut its staff.

"We are looking at those elements such as staff and benefits and salaries, I'm not sure if many of them will come into play this budget season or not. They are very difficult decisions that need a thorough investigation," Marquardt said.

Some citizens felt the city should wait to raise taxes because Wal-Mart isn't anticipated to move until 2015.

They feel there is still time to find a new tenant that will bring sales tax dollars and help offset the deficit.

City leaders say it will be difficult to find a new tenant because Wal-Mart has not given an exact time of when they will be leaving, and the land isn't owned by the city. It's up to the land owner to decide who will move into that area.

In the meantime, city officials say they are trying to plan ahead, so when Wal-Mart does leave they'll be prepared.

A final budget for 2014 must be approved by mid-August.

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