Sunday, October 26, 2008
A Lesson from Merriam, Kansas
A recent column in the Kansas City Star about a shopping center built in Merriam, Kansas has some valuable lessons for city leaders in Raytown. Hearne Christopher, Jr., a political writer for the Star, recently wrote about a shopping center constructed in Merriam, Kansas. The shopping center, named Merriam Villlage, was financed in part by tax incentives provided by the city. It sits atop a large hill on I-35 just south of Johnson Drive. It is 300,000 square feet of prime real estate on one of the busiest interstates in the metropolitan area. And, it is completely empty. Whoever said, “if you build it, they will come” should take a hard look at what a national economy in recession can do to area developers’ dreams. The lone tenant of the Merriam Village was Circuit City. Even that is somewhat of a stretch. Circuit City pulled the plug on the location before it opened. The contractor constructing the inside fixtures for the store was told to pack up and go home in the middle of the job. Circuit City recently announced it was closing 150 locations nationwide (for a list of other national retail stores cutting back see my blog dated October 24, 2008 10:25 PM). City officials would be wise to remember Merriam’s lesson before it creates any more tax giveaways to attract developers to the Walmart/350 Highway development. Board Approves Controversial Budget At its last meeting the Raytown Board of Aldermen approved the city’s 2009/2010 fiscal budget. But it was not without controversy. The center of the argument was $947,000 in one time expenses. Aldermen Barb Schlapia, Marilyn Fleming and Greg Walters argued that the items should stand on their own merit. For the record Aldermen Schlapia and Walters voted "no" on the budget. Included in the $947,000 package: $274,000.00 for “economic development efforts”. Detailed plans were not included in the request. $50,000 for “city hall security upgrades”. The administration had argued that the upgrades were necessary in light of shootings that occurred in Kirkwood, Missouri last year. $5,000 for exercise equipment at the EMS (ambulance) garage. The city already has exercise equipment. The equipment is housed in the police department and available for use by ALL city employees. $50,000 for another salary survey. $30,000 for a pilot study of outsourcing some payroll HR functions. Last year, the city created a full time HR position for managing employee benefits. $188,000 to remodel the public works street department facility. $35,000 for an item called “temporary agency fees”. $5,000 for new countertops in the public works department. In keeping with the new security measures, the countertops would limit access to the offices of the public works department. Word Watch . . . This is a new feature of the Raytown Report. When a public official makes a statement that is less than accurate – it will be corrected here. This week’s “Word Watch” is attributed to Ward 2 Alderman Jim Aziere. At last Tuesday’s meeting Aziere stated that the Board had to pass the budget or the city could not function. Not true. The City of Raytown is not Washington, DC. Elected officials do not shut down the city’s ability to operate by refusing to pass budget resolutions. However, in the unlikely event that a budget is not passed in a timely fashion the natural course of action is to continue day-to-day business at city hall.