Shawnee voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to raise property taxes to fund a $38 million community center. The mail-in election concluded today at noon. Of the 19,939 ballots cast, 14,380, or more than 72 percent, said ‘no’ to increasing the city’s mill levy rate.
A little more than 46 percent of registered voters in the city cast ballots. The proposal would have increased city mill levy rates from 26.62 to 29.54, making Shawnee’s rate one of the highest in Johnson County.
According to a press release from the city, employees will now begin researching other potential uses for the property at 61st and Woodland, where the community center would have been built.
“Listening to our residents is crucial,” Mayor Michelle Distler said. “The governing body wanted to ensure we gave every single registered voter in Shawnee a chance to weigh in on this important issue…The majority of people who voted have let us know they do not support the proposed community center.”
The city council overwhelmingly supported forwarding the community center proposal to voters, with six members of the eight member council advocating in favor of the tax increase and new construction.
Chris Karner, chairman of the Vote No – There’s a Better Way opposition campaign, said the vote sends a clear message that voters want the city council to prioritize needs over wants.
“It sends a message that our tax rates are already high and need not be higher. It also says that the people of Shawnee are not interested in going into competition with private fitness centers generating revenue for our city,” he said.
Mike Pirner, a political consultant who assisted with the campaign and former member of the Johnson County Parks & Recreation Board, said it also sends a message to other cities thinking of building community centers.
“Maybe the people don’t want them. Maybe we don’t need as many as we have. Maybe they don’t need to be as grand as they are building them,” Pirner said. “The definition of a community center has changed from what it once was to things that are now on par with Lifetime Fitness.”
The proposed center would have included indoor pools, basketball courts and an indoor turf field.
“That, to me, crosses the line of what government should do, especially when you’re taking people’s property taxes to do it,” Pirner said.