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February 15, 2011

Overland Park thrives despite tough economy, mayor says.

Overland Park residents still get a good bang for their taxpayer dollar even though the city slashed millions in spending to climb out of the recession, Mayor Carl Gerlach said in his annual State of the City address today.

The city has cut staff and reduced spending on streets, parks, bridges and other services as it copes with declining property and sales tax revenues during the last several years.

Nevertheless, the city has been able to preserve one of the lowest property tax rates in the state as it weathered the historically deep recession, the mayor said.

“Overland Park, for the money, is outstanding,” Gerlach said.

Gerlach pointed out that the city’s property tax rate is lower in 2011 than it was in 2004. It also continues to be lowest of any city in Johnson County and of any first-class city in Kansas, he said.

To hold spending down, the city reduced its capital construction by more than half since 2009, going from $225 million down to $103 million next year.

The city also has delayed street work by eliminating an extra $1.7 million targeted for enhanced maintenance. As a result, the city will improve 6 miles of thoroughfare rather than 16.

Looking ahead, Gerlach enumerated a number of priorities that included:

•Creating more jobs and sustaining Overland Park’s appeal to businesses. In the last two years, the city has added 6,000 jobs, including 2,800 in 2010.

“Let everyone know that companies in Overland Park will be hiring this year,” he said. “That sounds so nice to say, ‘Companies are hiring in Overland Park.’ ”

•Promoting “outstanding and safe neighborhoods.”

•Balancing new growth out south with redevelopment of aging parts of the city.

•Ensuring high-quality constituent services.

•Attracting more cultural and entertainment amenities.

Gerlach pointed to the development of a new half-billion project in southern Overland Park that will feature exhibits from the American Museum of Natural History.

The project, called Prairefire at LionsGate, is expected to draw more than 400,000 people a year.

“It is absolutely clear that Prairiefire is moving forward, that investors are starting to take notice of it and want to be part of this truly regional attraction and destination for Overland Park,” Gerlach said.

Gerlach made no apologies for Overland Park’s aggressive pursuit of economic development, but he looked beyond any of the state-line competition issues that have been brewing in recent months.

“Cities have no choice but to compete for jobs, residents and tourists. Competition isn’t local. It’s global,” Gerlach said. “By that, I mean we are in competition with cities around the world for the creation of a highly educated and talented work force.”

But new development in Overland Park will not look like it has in the past, Gerlach said.

Out south, large-lot housing will give way to higher-density subdivisions populated with more typical single-family homes. And in the northern parts of the city, residents can expect to see higher-density projects that incorporate housing, retail and office space together.

And developers already are joining with the city to secure financing help to overhaul shopping centers at the corner of 95th Street and Antioch Road in northern Overland Park.

As he pilots Overland Park for a second term as mayor, Gerlach said the city must always be looking ahead for the next opportunity.

“We must always continue to look to the future,” he said. “We must make long-term investments that will support and enhance the quality of life. We will not ignore problems today that will put this city in a difficult position to have to play catch-up.

“The Overland Park of tomorrow, and for the next 50 years, begins today.”

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