by Ivan Foley
Fiscally conservative viewpoints were heard consistently throughout the evening when the two Republican candidates for second district Platte County commissioner sat down for a debate.
John Elliott, rural Platte County, and Jason Buckley, Kansas City in Platte County, agreed on more topics than not during the forum, which was moderated by a representative of the League of Women Voters and held at the Platte County Community Center North in Platte City on Thursday night.
Both are campaigning on a platform of lower taxes and both mentioned that approach in their opening remarks. Both indicated a desire to cut the current level of the park sales tax, which is at half cent. Both indicated a desire to get the county’s golf course, Shiloh Springs, off the backs of taxpayers.
“I am a staunch conservative. I will fight for lower taxes and lower spending in the county,” said Buckley, who works as an information technology (IT) specialist for an Overland Park firm. Buckley said he is a Navy veteran who has been passionate about politics since the time he was able to start voting.
Elliott’s opening remarks also mentioned a fiscally conservative approach to government.
“I’m running on a platform of lower taxes and higher accountability,” said Elliott, who has been involved in politics and political campaigns--though not serving in a county office--for 25 of his 30 years in Platte County.
“While the county has many things going for it, every once in a while you have to address some things. It’s like you’re living in a wonderful house but it’s not maintenance free. There are some financial issues, operational issues and personnel issues that I think need addressed so we can maintain the quality of life, quality of law enforcement, quality of roads that Platte County has to offer,” Elliott added.
Asked to describe a five year vision for the county, Buckley answered:
“I want to safely cut as much wasteful and non-essential spending that this county currently has. That way we will be able to quickly pay down any debt the county has and after that we can lower taxes so citizens can keep more of their money.”
Elliott answered with: “The biggest item is the sunset of the parks and recreation tax which occurs in 2020. The two associate commissioners who are elected this year will be involved in determining if it comes back and at what level it comes back. We have the opportunity to restructure county taxes to make it reflect our priorities. Our number one priority has to be law enforcement and operations, whether it be more beds for the jail, more room for prosecutors, or the budget to be able to prosecute a capital punishment case.”
On the topic of a long term vision for the county, both answered that they would like to see county debt reduced by paying off bonds. Elliott said he would like to see the county adopt a long-term budgeting process “so we can be prepared for the ending of certain taxes and prepare for mandates coming down the road.”
Each candidate had specific comments on the current half cent park tax.
Elliott said when the current half cent park tax sunsets in 2020, he is in favor of proposing to voters a quarter cent sales tax for parks and a quarter cent for law enforcement. Currently the county’s law enforcement needs are funded through the county’s general fund. A dedicated quarter cent sales tax would take $4.25 million of pressure off of the general fund, he pointed out.
“That’s not additional funding, just a change in the funding source,” he said, adding that this would allow the county to use general fund money to pay off debt, help the sheriff’s department with more funding to keep employees.
“After we deal with priorities then we can start lowering the levy to help taxpayers,” he said.
Buckley said in his opinion the county already has enough parks “if not too many.” He said he would ask for the lowest amount necessary, which he believes would be a quarter cent.
“The current (half cent sales tax) level is not necessary at all,” Buckley said. He did add that if he “was told by a good majority that there was enough need for more parks due to growth I would seek to add more in the most fiscally responsible way possible.”
Elliott said more parks would grow the size of government.
“If we continue to build and buy then we can’t cut taxes, we’d have to raise them.”
As for the county golf course, the two offered similar views.
“The county never should have gotten involved in the golf course. The county needs to be out of the golf course business. I don’t want to see it closed but I want to see it off the county’s books,” Elliott said.
Elliott added that a couple of bidders for operating the golf course last year indicted desire to discuss purchasing options of the course, but neither of those bids was received. The bid received by the county for operating the golf course offered no desire to discuss purchasing the course from the county.
Elliott said some options for the golf course would be to discuss the possibility of selling it to potential buyers. Another option, he said, is to make it available to the members to let them run it and let them own it.
“We could simply give it to an association, give it to the members to let them own it,” he said, which would get the course off the county’s books.
The final option, which he said he does not want to see happen, would be to simply close the course.
Buckley said he believes Shiloh should be sold.
“It should be sold to a private company. Until that happens I would cut whatever we can to make Shiloh support itself so we don’t have to fund it with tax dollars,” Buckley explained.
A question about biking trails came up. Both were cool to the idea of adding any more biking trails, of which it was stated the county has 11 miles of right now.
“I stated before we have enough parks and trails are a part of that function,” Buckley said.
Elliott said there are small sections of trails, sections of around a few hundred feet, that should be finished.
“But the long stretches that go all the way to northern and northwestern Platte County I do not support those at all,” Elliott said.
In response to more general questions, Elliott said he is “not running to be status quo. I’m running to identify problems, admit them and fix them.”
On the topic of the recent issue of the treasurer wiring $48,200 to an email spoofer, Elliott restated that the commission has no authority over the treasurer or elected officeholders.
“But the commission needs to be accountable for the employees that the commission does have authority over. For instance, I don’t believe that a person with multiple DWIs should still be employed with the county,” he said, an obvious reference to Mary Robinson, the county’s human resources director.
In response to “why should you be commissioner,” Elliott responded:
“I have a plan. I want to implement conservative ideas on budget and personnel. I’m not looking to climb the political ladder. The most I see serving as a commissioner is 12 years, and only because that gets through the cycle of sunsetting sales taxes,” he said.
Elliott had pointed out earlier in the evening that when the current 3/8ths cent sales tax for roads is brought back for renewal in 2024 it should be lowered to a quarter cent at that time “because by then all bridges that have been identified as an issue will have been addressed.”
Buckley answered the ‘why should you be commissioner’ question by saying:
“I’m very passionate about bringing Platte County to a more conservative level. I will work hard to cut taxes so you can keep more of your money. I will work to cut wasteful and non essential spending and I will work hard to bring more jobs and businesses to Platte County.”
Both said they oppose the Mid-Continent Public Library’s proposed tax increase that will appear on the November ballot. The library is asking voters to okay a property tax hike from 32 cents to 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
“No,”Elliott answered when asked if he supported the library’s proposal. “An eight cent increase is a 25 percent increase in that tax. Eight cents is two cents more than the county’s total six cent levy, for some perspective,” he added.
“We’re part of a three county library system. Maybe there are areas that need more library facilities but not in Platte County,” Elliott added.
Buckley said he also opposes the library tax increase.
“I’m not in favor of any tax increase. In the long run the library will receive more tax revenue due to population growth, which will allow the library board to finance any future projects.”
On the topic of how they would handle growth in the county, each candidate offered conservative perspective.
“As our population continues to grow it would provide more tax revenue and with that we would speak to the experts involved in jails and complexes to see the needs and be able to provide those as needed. We must plan so that debt or bonds are never a consideration,” Buckley said.
Elliott said “of course there is potential growth, Platte County is a prime county for people to want to move to.” He said he does not buy the projections being made of a population explosion in the Twin Creeks area. He said that many of those locating into that area “will be people that already live in the county, and the majority of Twin Creeks is in Kansas City. So we can’t have a knee jerk reaction. It’s something we should have a long range plan for.”
Elliott and Buckley will square off in the Republican primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 2. Also on the ballot is the name of Vic Perrin, who has announced he has officially ended his campaign. Perrin did not appear at Thursday’s debate.
The winner of the Republican primary will then face Democrat John Fairfield in the November general election.
The second district county commissioner spot is currently held by Duane Soper, who is stepping away after serving one term.