Story published: Friday, Jul. 13, 2012

The Olathe News

Olathe citizens speak up on proposed $280 million budget

The Olathe News

Concerns about Olathe’s future were the top priority at the second annual e-Town Hall meeting held Tuesday evening.

The online event, which was broadcast live on the Olathe Government Network and the city’s website, provided a forum where the governing body answered almost a dozen questions from residents regarding the city’s proposed budget of $280,474,089 for 2013.

Residents had submitted questions regarding the budget to the city’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

The first question of the evening asked the council whether the proposed budget had room for maintaining the aging road infrastructure in Olathe’s older neighborhoods.

Mayor Mike Copeland pointed out that the city regularly evaluates the streets in Olathe, which are repaired in order of priority and need. He said residential streets in Olathe have a 20-year lifespan, whereas the main drags only last about seven years. Therefore, the city tends to spend more time and money maintaining the major arterial roads.

Councilwoman Marge Vogt agreed that Olathe could use residential street improvements but said lack of funding prevented the city from addressing every paved road. After all, she pointed out, each street maintenance project costs millions of dollars.

Another question asked whether the proposed budget addressed code enforcement.

Councilman Jim Randall responded that the budget currently calls for an additional code enforcement officer because the city recognizes the need for a stricter eye on violations, such as paint deterioration and unkempt lawns.

“In this city, we want people to feel comfortable in their homes and live in a place where they feel is a high quality of life,” he said. “Residents should be able to look out the front window of their house and see something pleasant.”

A question about the necessity of a community center drew one of the longest discussions from the council. The new Olathe community center, which is slated to cost $28.5 million, is expected to break ground in the fall and open spring 2014.

“A community center has been talked about in the city for three decades or more,” the mayor said, in response to the question. “We are looking forward to addressing a lot of under-met and unmet needs of the community, from seniors to the disabled to children. It will benefit a lot of demographic groups.”

Councilman Jim Terrones said he hopes the community center will offer a safe place for teenagers to hang out, to keep them out of trouble and off the streets.

One of the last questions addressed the lack of downtown revitalization.

Randall responded by saying Olathe is offering a tax abatement incentive program to attract businesses to the area. The mayor added that while Olathe has already invested in its downtown, it still has a lot of room for improvement.

After the e-Town Hall meeting was over, the mayor expressed his satisfaction at the outcome.

“More people participated this year and I could tell the questions were more researched and factual,” Copeland said. “It’s exciting to hear what the residents have to say because it is their money and we want to spend it in accordance to their wishes.”

He was also pleased that many of the questions submitted mirrored the priorities stated by residents in the annual DirectionFinder citizen satisfaction survey.

Erin Vader, communication and public engagement manager for Olathe, who helped coordinate the event, is excited Olathe is using technology to reach out to its residents.

“The e-Town Hall format has significantly increased citizen participation in the budget process,” she said. “We’ve evolved from the days when residents were asked to come to City Hall to participate in a public hearing. Now we go where the citizens are — in this case through the use of social media tools and the web.”

Residents can still weigh in on the proposed 2013 budget. The city will continue to answer questions on its website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. There will also be a budget workshop at the next city council meeting on July 24.