You might think an elected offical of city that hiked property tax more than three times the combined rates of inflation and population would be circumspect when discussing taxes and storm cleanup rather than make a ‘let them eat cake’ comment. But Overland Park Councilman Logan Heley rudely responded to a resident’s complaint about the slow pace of the July 14 storm cleanup, writing on Facebook, “You get what you pay for”
Heley was referring to the mill levy, which city officials tout as being the lowest in the state. But that isn’t because Overland Park operates efficiently as city officials imply. It’s because Overland Park has a property valuation advantage.
A mill generates one dollar of tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. Overland Park has more than twice as much assessed valuation as Olathe, so one mill in Overland Park raises twice as much money — and Overland Park can have a mill levy 50% lower than Olathe and collect the same money. And with a 411% tax increase since 1997, the city’s mill levy should be much lower.
Fellow Councilman Faris Farassati blasted Mayor Curt Skoog for not returning home from Boston where he was attending a mayor’s conference at Harvard University, to lead the cleanup effort. Farassati posted on his Facebook page:
“The leadership lessons our Mayor Curt Skoog is looking for in Massachusetts are available here in OP after this disastrous, once in 20 years, storm! Every damaged neighborhood has a lesson! Every resident in need is a teacher for us!
“He would have learned more by being here and helping the people rather than going to a fancy conference (most likely on taxpayers money) and taking group photos! These conferences happen all the time. Disasters don’t.”
Farassati called for OP’s emergency funds to be used to remove debris from homeowners’ yards and assistance for those unable to cut down damaged limbs and trees. He criticized what he termed a “photo-op” of the mayor as part of a cleanup crew upon his return to the city, providing a photo he capationed “After returning from MA, 5 days post-storm.”
Homeowner Missey Smith was offended by Heley’s comment to her on Facebook.
“In the last few years the services, maintenance, and just care for the northern part of the city have become abysmal. I was in Charleston, SC during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and there are definite similarities in parts of Overland Park.
“It is downright shameful that every city around us has stepped up to help its citizens and after such a large tax increase Overland Park claims it is too costly. I would like to know what is the total dollar amount that my two council members have voted on for developers.”
Resident Jeff Kocen faulted Overland Park’s response compared to other Johnson County cities.
“The City failed in its basic responsibilities to ensure the safety of its residents. The city should have offered curbside pickup and announced it immediately as Lenexa and Olathe did. It should have also declared a state of emergency as was announced by the leaders of Roeland Park and Prairie Village.
“Instead, our mayor left town for a mayoral leadership conference without making any public comments on the storm and even today he has not released a statement to explain the actions of the city. This is a failure of leadership by him and the city manager.”
Kocen added an ominous warning.
“Today I am hearing the city is sending code enforcement out to cite homeowners with debris. The mayor and the City seem to be waging war against its residents. The City has plenty of money in its reserves to cover the storm cleanup cost and not have any impact on services or the current budget. Many of us feel let down by our wealthy city of Overland Park.”
Homeowner Sandy Siecgrist sent an urgent appeal to her high school classmate, OP City Manager Lori Curtis Luther:
“If these were your parents, your cousins, your aunts and uncles or even your own children (after they are grown and gone), would you be upset if the city didn’t provide the support they can clearly cover?? I’m not talking about the volunteers helping…that’s a given because that’s how our community is! This is just another reason I love living here. The curbside pickup is nothing in comparison to many other financial projects going on here in OP. This cost is pennies and I know that Overland Park has the money to help their citizens….No one is going to fire you for making this decision. If anything, I know you want the support of the people for the city you live and work in.
“Please Lori….on a level of humanity, PLEASE, approve the funds needed for curbside service pickup so everyone can get on with their lives and pick up the pieces. When those on fixed incomes are trying to figure out where they will get the money to pay a tree trimmer/arborist and still afford to eat or have a roof over their head, this is serious business!! Wisconsin doesn’t have hurricanes, but we do have local residents who have lived in hurricane areas, and they comparing this storm to Hurricane Hugo or Hurricane Sandy (any hurricane which usually destroys property), that speaks volumes!!!!!!”
But she says she was disappointed with the city manager’s response:
Thank you for reaching out and sharing this personal connection. I believe you heard the points I made at the Council meeting Monday when you spoke, so it’s not necessary to reiterate them here. However, please know that I used the vast knowledge of our professional staff of engineers, finance professionals, debris removal teams, emergency operations experts and others to assess damage, generate cost estimates, and weigh the options before deciding on a course of action.
We appreciate the need for assistance and have provided resources for residents, which I will share again below.
Thank you for your engagement and your email.
We reached out to Councilman Heley for a response to the criticism of his now-controversial comment to constituents. He did not respond.
Editor’s Note: Corrections were made to the spellings of the names of Councilman Farassati and homeowner Sandy Siecgrist, and Councilman Farassati’s depiction of the mayor’s cleanup crew picture has been changed to “criticized” from “ridiculed”