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Politics, Elections and Government

Shawnee Wants A New Community Center — Here's Why A Grassroots Group Opposes It

City of Shawnee
The City of Shawnee wants to build a new community center on the western edge of town with a $38 million bond issue.

Last week, ballots started arriving in Shawnee mailboxes, asking voters to decide on a $38 million bond issue to build a new community center with a pool and fitness center in the city's growing western end.

It's a project the city has been talking about for 15 years, and decided in February to take it to voters. 

"We have two pools east of  (Interstate) 435 right now. And so a third pool was needed. We discussed having an indoor facility because that's a need that we weren't meeting was indoor aquatics," Deputy Parks & Rec Director Tonya Lecuru told KCUR.

But the proposed tax hike is opposed by Vote No! There's A Better Way! That's a grassroots organization, chaired by Chris Karner. He called the plan "extravagant."

"Why spend so much money on repetitive facilities," he asked.

The proposed center at near West 61st Street and Woodland Drive also would provide programs for youth and seniors, an indoor track and an outdoor walking trail and shelter, according to the city's website.

"We did do a survey in 2018 that was specific to just the proposed community center," Lecuru told KCUR, adding that 60 percent of those surveyed were interested in a new community center and 48 percent would back a property tax hike.

The average homeowner in Shawnee would pay an extra $88 a year in property taxes (the average home is worth $263,000, according to the city). If the bond measure passes, the community center will cost $54 million with debt service. The city said about $500,000 of that will be used as operating funds the first year the facility is open.

Vote No! isn't the only dissenting voice, either. Councilmember Mike Kemmling expressed concern at the February meeting that the community center would compete with businesses offering the same services, according to the Shawnee Mission Post.

Karner points out that the Mill Creek Activity Center, run by Johnson County Parks and Rec, isn't too far away.

His group's website would like to see the city focus on "unmet stormwater needs." He also believes Shawnee needs more police and firefighters, although he said he is personally unwilling to pay more in property taxes for those services, adding that the city could better spend its existing taxes.

Vote No! has spent about $12,000 opposing the bond issue, Karner said. A new mailing from his group is going out this week.

Voters have until noon on May 21 to return their ballots to the Johnson County Election Office.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter: @samzeff.

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