In recent years, Governor Brownback and the leadership in the Kansas Legislature have been working to undermine local control for policy that properly should reside with local governments. This includes policy areas such as local property taxation, state overrides of local criminal statutes, and state re-direction of local sales tax collections.
One of the important functions of a city council is to monitor legislative action at the higher levels of government that affect the city, its operations, and the well being of its residents. Officials at the local level – if they are conscientious in their duties – often are in the best position to understand how particular policy changes are likely to affect their residents for a variety of issues.
One of the potential future state legislative actions that would have a major negative impact on the city's finances is a proposal to change the way sales taxes on automobiles are collected in terms of which jurisdiction receives the proceeds. Under consideration is a state change that would send the municipal sales taxes collected from vehicle sales at an auto dealership location to the jurisdiction where the buyer lives rather than where the dealership is actually located.
This change – or any other change to the implementation of sales taxes – would have profoundly negative implications for our city since a huge proportion of city sales tax revenue in Merriam is raised from auto sales. Most cars sold in Merriam are purchased by residents of other cities, so all that revenue would be lost if the Kansas Legislature changes this basic way that sales tax works for auto sales. Merriam has relied on the sales tax from auto dealerships to fund some critical long term infrastructure improvements including the new community center.
As a geographically constrained city where most of Merriam's key commercial land is already developed, if the property tracts with auto dealerships already built no longer produce city sales tax revenue, Merriam will be in big trouble. There is nowhere left in Merriam to build enough alternative commercial establishments that could compensate for the revenue loss from the automobile sales tax.
Merriam employs lobbyists to monitor the Kansas Legislature. City Council members also need to be willing to actively represent the interests of the city before the Kansas Legislature if necessary. Same need could exist for other levels of government including the County and Federal level. In recent years however the Kansas Legislature seems to be the biggest threat to local control through their meddling in local governance.
Merriam is also a member of the League of Kansas Municipalities which is a state-sanctioned association of cities and towns in Kansas that band together to develop standard language for local public safety ordinances and traffic ordinances as well as other public policy tools appropriate for local governance. The League of Kansas Municipalities 2017 Uniform Public Offense Code (UPOC) and the 2017 Standard Traffic Ordinance (STO) are included by reference in the Merriam Municipal Code.
In addition, The League of Kansas Municipalities often represents the state's municipal governments in providing testimony at state legislative hearings on matters that impact our local communities. The League also lobbys the legislature on behalf of Kansas municipalities.
Full participation in the League of Kansas Municipalities is very important for city council members in my judgement. Merriam is entitled to have three voting members attend the annual decision making meetings of the League of Kansas Municipalities. Merriam does not require its council members to attend or participate. It is purely voluntary.
During the August 28, 2017 City Council meeting, the Council was not able to find three council members willing to attend and be voting delegates for the Kansas League of Municipalities Annual Conference. Only the Mayor and one other council member volunteered to attend on behalf of the City. As a result with only two votes out of the three Merriam is entitled to, we do not have the ability to exercise our full representation in this policy making process. The current council members from Ward 4 are not attending. I believe this is a mistake.
Each year the UPOC and STO are updated through the work of the League of Kansas Municipalities as approved by its voting members. Sometimes the state legislature pressures for changes to local ordinances as reflected in these standard documents. For example, in the 2017 edition of the UPOC, Section 10.2 – 'Drawing a Weapon Upon Another' was deleted. The previous language made it a violation to 'draw a weapon upon another person.' This includes multiple types of weapons, not just firearms.
The Kansas Legislature wanted the entire section deleted because explicitly prohibiting the drawing of a weapon in the Uniform Public Offense Code might in some way infringe upon the legislators' notion of the right of citizens to defend themselves with a firearm. At a minimum, why would the entire section need to be eliminated if the concern was limited to gun rights? These kind of matters should be discussed and Merriam's input should be heard at the state level. Possibly, some alternative language could have been found to address the specific concerns of the Legislature without implicitly saying through this revision that it may now be lawful to draw a weapon of any type on someone else in Merriam.
If elected to the Merriam City Council, I will volunteer to attend all League of Kansas Municipalities meetings unless extreme extenuating circumstances prohibit it. Hopefully my example will encourage other council members to volunteer as well and make sure that the city exercises all its voting power to help shape state level policy impacting Merriam.