Housing in Prairie Village continues to undergo dramatic shifts in form and price. The teardown trend has continued despite recent adjustments to exterior guidelines. This affirms the demand for living in Prairie Village. The city remains a desirable place to live.
That said, housing in Prairie Village has become gradually less and less attainable for buyers across the spectrum. It's also become harder to hold on to housing that used to be more affordable. This is especially true in Ward 6, where we may have the most extensive stock of attainable housing left in PV.
While rising property values demonstrate that the market finds the city is desirable, this isn't a good thing for everyone. If you don't plan to sell your home, a higher property value means higher taxes. If you serve our community in various roles: teaching, first responders, city staff, working in our shops...you will be more priced out of PV than ever. So what do we do?
We must leave no stone unturned in housing attainability and equity here in Prairie Village. This means deeply analyzing how our city codes reinforce development patterns that produce bigger and more luxurious houses at the expense of more affordable housing stock. It also means we should consider opening up new tools for homeowners to remain in place. Could these be refined rules on accessory dwelling units? Could these mean smaller lot sizes so land is less a part of the price equation when building a new, smaller home? Additionally, we should look at our higher-density zoning districts and figure out how better to integrate housing in our commercial centers and make sure apartment redevelopment leaves open the possibility for newer, market-rate attainable units instead of nothing but high-end luxury units.
We must also ensure that changes to the zoning code don't exacerbate the teardown-to-high-end trend or tilt the (already tilted) scales more in favor of single-family home landlords in PV. Careful attention must be given to leveling the playing field between builders, landlords, and owner-occupiers.
I co-chaired the ad-hoc housing committee that produced suggestions for the council, staff, and the planning commission to consider possible land use and zoning code reforms. I believe those were good suggestions to begin this conversation, and the conversation continued over a year after those suggestions were introduced. We look forward to more public feedback to inform any final council action on these reforms.
The Civic Center Question
I currently chair the ad-hoc civic center committee. We have been working with our partners at the YMCA and the Johnson County Library to produce a civic center concept on the land in and around Harmon Park and the existing Paul Henson YMCA land. I'm broadly in favor of a civic center campus that includes a recreational facility and library. I think investing in public fitness spaces and information commons at the heart of our city is a generational opportunity we must grab hold of and take.
Any tax increases associated with the plan should go to the voters. I intend to make the best possible proposal from the city and present it to the voters before voting for any associated tax increases on a ballot.
Investing in our Infrastructure
Prairie Village's streets and parks are defining features of the city. They are top-tier in the metro. We never sit idly by when it comes to maintaining and building upon what we've got. We're always looking for new ways to have better parks, walkways, and streets. I fully support the continued funding of our parks and public spaces at the current level to add new public features where appropriate. Additionally, keeping our streets in good condition and adding new walkways to existing roads is crucial. An expectation of residents here is that we have highly walkable and safe roads as well as well-maintained streets. We expect nothing less.
Investing in our Staff
Staffing a city has become a much more competitive endeavor than in the past. As a "big small city" or a "small big city," Prairie Village depends on its city administration to function well. We could find ourselves in a managerial nightmare if we lose too many people in city hall. Similarly, keeping our police department staffed and on patrol is essential to maintaining public safety and continuity of services to residents.
For these reasons, I advocated for increasing pay for staff to move our city to compete more with our neighbors for talent. While we may not be the city with the deepest pockets, we do have advantages that we can leverage with staff retention when we couple it with decent compensation packages. I'm proud that a city we love can also be a city that treats its workers well and keeps them here for long careers. The staff makes the city we love work.
Funding it all
I am currently the finance committee chair for Prairie Village. I have intimate knowledge of constructing and bringing the city budget to the council. Keeping city operations well-resourced requires a sharp focus on finances and mindfulness on collecting tax revenues to keep the city running at a level we expect. Some say we need to recoup revenues by discovering efficiencies in inefficient government operations. I acknowledge that inefficiencies exist in any organization – including private organizations. I believe such inefficiencies in Prairie Village are marginal at best. If we are to cut taxes substantially, we must decide what city programs we must cut. There is no magic solution to the funding problem. There is no hidden pot of money that we can uncover. There are only tough choices.
I believe in a mindful approach to managing the finance question that breaks down into three parts.
- Keep Prairie Village top-tier: PV is built on top-tier city services and civic functions. We need to keep it this way. We can't simply cut funding to our public works or police department (our largest cost centers). We must figure out how to stay the course we've set for our community.
- Help those most impacted by taxes: I support city property tax rebates for those who need it. We have programs in place to return taxes to those who need them on an income basis.
- Build a broader base long-term: We need to set our city planning targets so that city costs aren't forever shouldered on the same residents. This could mean additional housing, additional commerce, mixed-use, or similar. We need additional economic activity and people to help offset costs that continue to climb. Government should be run like a business, and businesses find new ways to draw "revenue" by expanding their "offerings." So too, must Prairie Village.
I believe that every year when we draw up our budget, we should be mindful of how we spend what we have and plan for how we set the mill rate going into the future. I favored a mill rate cut in the past budget cycle. This year, I will likely favor capturing any property appreciation so we can fund a city hall renewal project. Either way, we must be mindful of how we set our budget and why we are setting it so we can articulate it to residents in the future. This is how I believe city finances should be run.