In early June, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park City Council address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the people of Overland Park.
Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Read the candidates’ responses to previously published questions about affordable housing, police transparency and climate change. Below are the candidates’ responses to item four:
There have been a number of complaints about the city’s use of the chip seal technique for road repairs in recent months, but less discussion about alternatives and how much they would cost. Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what should the city be doing instead to repair and maintain its roads? How much would an alternative cost and how would the city pay for it? If you do support chip seal, how do you respond to residents who say it is both dangerous to pedestrians/cyclists and damaging to vehicles?
Chipseal is a big topic, one that shouldn’t be. It is a substandard way to do our roadways. This should be stopped until we figure out what to do. I find it interesting that current council members are now for change or alternative ways to pave after voting to do it in the first place! (after not listening to the many HOAs that asked for this to be stopped and not approved) It is messy, dangerous and doesn’t last! Until another way is financed and figured out Stop it! If we quit giving every developer tax incentives to build here, we might just have the money to do what is right for all of those who live here!
Meantime, do less miles, do it right and work on a solution! Our surrounding cities have moved on from chipseal, so must we! If we form a committee to review this topic, don’t put the same people who voted it in on the committee! Doing this doesn’t give me the confidence that anything will change.
This question is a perfect example of the problem current leadership has created with the discussion around chip seal. Too many people are trying to mislead the public and offer simple solutions to a complex issue because it’s good for them politically. And too few others are willing to call that out or put in the work to have a nuanced conversation about what it really is. So, we get where we are now. Where people are confused and upset, and the current Council has kicked the can down the road by creating another committee to maybe one day think about solving a problem our residents have been complaining about for over a decade. Despite it being presented by so many politicians as a yes or no question, whether you do or don’t support chip seal, the real question is whether you support it based on the cost a reasonable
alternative would bring. And as the question prompt points out, we don’t really know how much an alternative would cost. We don’t know because current leaders have been unwilling to have those conversations with us. They haven’t acted on the transparency or accountability we all claim to be fans of.
So, do I support the use of chip seal generally? No. Our residents have been complaining about it for years and nothing has been done. Most of our peer communities were able to find solutions to this problem. I think we should be able to do the same.
But this is where the tough part comes in, and why our leaders have danced around this for so long. It costs money. What we need is full transparency on the costs associated with alternatives. Instead of asking our residents whether or not they support chip seal, we need to be asking whether they support chip seal if the alternative will cost them an extra $250, $500, or $1000 in
annual property tax. And then we need leaders who will be confident enough in their decision-making process to want to be held accountable. Leaders who will put in the work to go out and explain to our residents why they support the solution they do. That’s all happening in darkness today and until we have leadership that’s actually committed to being transparent and accountable, our future will be filled with more committees, task forces, and inaction.
Stacie Gram (incumbent)
I am no fan of chip seal. It’s on the road in front of my house, it’s in bad shape and I am in favor of using a different method to resurface our roads. I raised this issue when I interviewed to fill the vacancy on the Council and my feelings have not changed.
Since joining the Council, however, I have learned that chip seal is just one of many infrastructure issues Overland Park must address for us to maintain our quality of life. In addition to road surfaces, we need to repair and replace sidewalks, curbs, gutters, streetlights and signs. We also must deal with stormwater drainage, a critical matter of personal safety and property protection that’s top of mind given our recent weather patterns.
During election season I certainly understand the appeal of demanding an immediate halt to the use of a road surface no one really likes. But, as Council member who takes my responsibilities seriously, I believe immediately terminating road maintenance – without a solution in hand – would be irresponsible. Our roads would deteriorate further, making make the problem worse.
Instead, I think we’re on a path that makes more sense. I am a member of the Council’s Public Works Committee and I advocated in favor of creating the Infrastructure Advisory Group. Made up of Overland Park residents and community experts, the group will help us prioritize infrastructure improvements, assess our options for addressing them and figure out how to pay for them.
Of course, cost is a major consideration. Chip seal is unloved, but it has the advantage of being 6 to 10 times less expensive than alternatives that have about the same lifespan. Our city paves 150 lane miles of roads each year using a combination of chip seal and more expensive options, including Ultra-thin Bonded Asphalt Surface. UBAS has more appealing characteristics, but city staff estimates that switching to it exclusively would cost an additional $20 million to $29 million per year.
Since joining the Council a year ago, I have received countless emails and knocked on hundreds of doors. And even though our city property taxes are far lower than our neighboring communities, property taxes are among my constituents’ top concerns. Therefore, changing our approach to road maintenance will require us to address funding and may ultimately require a public vote.
I DO NOT support the city’s decision to continue using chip seal on residential streets. I’ve advocated for a higher quality material since it was applied throughout our neighborhood in August 2014. I’ve generated awareness of this substandard material by speaking at Public Works Committee meetings, participating in public comment opportunities at City Council meetings and engaging the local TV/media. In April, I began reaching out to other HOA board members across the city to collaborate and approach the city as a unified voice. On behalf of 5,132 homeowners, 24 HOA presidents signed a letter to the city asking for the immediate discontinuance of chip seal on our neighborhood streets.
In May, I asked the City Council to revisit the previously approved 2021 budget and identify which projects could be moved to the 2022 budget (or beyond). If they were unable to free up enough funds to replace the 151 lane miles scheduled to receive chip seal this summer, I urged them to do less and do them right. Prioritize which streets can’t afford to be deferred to 2022 and resurface those with a higher quality material.
Every year, the city acknowledges chip seal as the #1 complaint from residents. And every year, despite the known risks of seriously injuring children and causing extensive car/motorcycle damage, most council members continue to approve it. It’s frustrating that our city hasn’t prioritized this issue, like every other city in Johnson County, and found a way to afford something better WITHOUT raising our taxes.
This summer, the city plans to apply chip seal to 151 miles of residential streets. When you compare the cost of applying chip seal to those streets for $2.9M ($19,700*151) vs a higher quality material such as UBAS for $5.5M ($36,747*151), it’s a difference of $2.6M (not $20M which I’ve recently heard quoted). I’m confident funds could be reallocated in our $300M annual budget to absorb this modest incremental cost.
Although I’m disappointed it has taken more than 7 years to capture the attention which this matter deserves, I’m pleased it’s now a hot topic with our elected officials and candidates. I’m optimistic that the city will make this a priority and replace chip seal with a better, smoother and safer material.
I am not aware of anyone, including myself, who likes chip seal. I have lived in Overland Park almost all of my life with chip seal on my streets . While riding my bike on them, my mom tells me I skinned my knees, arms, etc. I was told the streets were not always the safest place to play, so we often played in our yard or on the sidewalks, which I also had accidents on. I apply the above to my son also. Chip seal has been a work in progress for many years. In an effort to eliminate chip seal, a task force has been formed by the city to find alternatives for replacing it. These alternatives must balance citizen satisfaction, possess cost-effectiveness and resiliency. I am confident these studies will show better alternatives towards phasing chip seal out, with an affordable alternative, acceptable to all of our citizens. I look forward to the results from the recently formed task force that will look at this issue, along with other important infrastructure needs.
No one likes chip seal. Let me be very clear. NO ONE likes chip seal. Chip seal is a low cost alternative to a more desirable way to pave roads. A saying that I like is “we can do anything… but we can’t do everything”. Overland Park has one of the lowest property tax rates in the region, we have the best amenities in the area by far with Deanna Rose, our parks, trails, community centers, the Arboretum, etc. And when the city hit financial challenges during the recession in 2011, a decision was made to expand the use of chip seal as a cost cutting measure. As the economy has recovered, the savings in how we pave roads have been used for other programs and services that have added value to our city. So, the net result is we need to find a way to pay 20 million dollars per year against a 300 million dollar budget to afford better roads if a change is going to be made. I’m committed to help explore options on the best way to pay for these improvements – but forethought and planning are required to make sure this change is successful.
On Friday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:
The city’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses and spur new development have become the subject of extensive debate in recent years. What’s your general view on the use of tax incentives? Should they ever be used for greenfield projects? Are there any tax incentive tools you believe should never be used? Why or why not?
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