Incumbent presiding commissioner Ron Schieber is facing Democratic candidate David Park in the only contested county race on the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election ballot.
Schieber, 58, is originally from Maryville, Mo., but has a long history in local elected offices. Married, with five daughters, Schieber holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and works in banking and finance. He served on the Park Hill board of education for seven years, then four years in the Missouri House of Representatives, until he returned to Platte County to run for presiding commissioner in 2014.
Schieber points to campaign promises made and kept since his election, including the sale of Shiloh Springs Golf Club, building the park maintenance fund, plans to reduce and realign county sales taxes — including the parks tax — and making law enforcement the county’s top priority.
Park, 63, is a political newcomer with a long history in civil service. Married, with two children and two granddaughters, Park earned a master’s degree in public administration and worked for the City of Kansas City for 35 years. He retired as director of neighborhood and community services. He also holds a certificate in economic development and said his work experience has helped him find ways to do more with less. Park said he managed public service programs for 35 years, overseeing balanced budgets and working to improving quality of life in the community.
“I am running for presiding commissioner as I want to ensure that our roads, parks, trails and recreational facilities are adequately funded; and, to address core county service needs such as law enforcement, particularly during rapid population growth,” Park said. “Platte County’s credit rating needs to be addressed as well due to prior poor handling of Zona Rosa bonds resulting in our credit being downgraded to junk status. I will also increase transparency and public input in Platte County’s decision-making processes.”
Three hot topics have defined this year’s race — law enforcement needs, the sunset of the twice voter-approved parks tax and financial trouble at Zona Rosa — and each candidate was given the opportunity to tackle these subjects:
Park: A 2014 study of jail needs in Platte County found that a major expansion of the jail was not warranted at that time. However, a growing number of inmates held in the jail has resulted in new discussions about jail expansion. I feel a task force should be established with professional and community members to review all the factors contributing to the increasing inmate population before a tax increase to expand the jail is considered. For example, other counties in Missouri experiencing the same increasing trend in inmate populations have argued it is due to a backlog in the public defender program which causes delays in cases getting to trial, which in turn leads to backlogs of inmates in county jails. If that is true, do we build bigger jails or hire more public defenders?
While the planning process for parks mentioned (below) is under way, a similar process needs to be initiated to identify unmet needs within law enforcement activities. For example, a salary study could determine the level of pay needed to retain deputies and to attract quality candidates when vacancies occur as well as an analysis of equipment needs and staffing levels necessary to provide an optimal level of safety service to the public.
Law enforcement and public safety is a top priority. Let’s not think, however, that the only way to ensure adequate funding for public safety is to sacrifice adequate park funding. These services should not be, nor do they need to be, mutually exclusive.
Schieber: Platte County will need more beds in the jail in the near future. We are currently analyzing options including finishing the area known as Futures. There are some design issues with the Futures area that we are trying to work through with the architects and engineers. It is my hope that we can find a way to use this area as originally intended. However, changes in the laws since it was built, and the height of that area may limit the number of beds that can be added. I believe if we are going to make public safety the top priority of the county, we will need to realign our current overall sales tax structure and include a dedicated public safety tax. Even with the creation of new jail cells, it’s my goal to keep the overall sales tax rate, currently 1 3/8ths cent, as flat as possible in the long run.
SUNSET OF PARKS TAX
Schieber: At the sunset of the current one-half cent parks sales tax in 2020, we will have invested $140,000,000 in parks and other amenities over a 20-year period. We must put our county in a position to maintain those amenities at a very high level. At this point, we know we will propose a reduction to the dedicated parks tax rate. There are many factors to consider including funding the 10-year parks maintenance plan that we have developed, putting in trail connectors, and making sure that the storm-water plan is fully funded. I also want to make sure that we implement budget disciplines that require the county to direct the use tax associated with the parks tax to the parks as well so that general revenue does not continue to rely on those funds for other non-parks operations.
Thankfully, at this moment the community centers are functioning well under the current operating agreement with the YMCA.
The sale of Shiloh Springs Golf Course is a great example of a win/win for the community and for GreatLife. Because of this success I am always open to options to partner with other organizations that will result in improved service or amenities for our citizens.
Park: Platte County residents have consistently shared how much they use and appreciate the park system that has been developed through the dedicated park tax. Continuing the development of parks as well as funding park upgrades and recreational activities is supported by the community throughout the county. A planning process like the one that produced the 2009 Park System Master Plan needs to be immediately initiated to engage the public in determining our needs and desires for the future and in identifying the level of funding that will be necessary going forward, particularly because Platte County is the fastest growing county in Missouri. This study needs to be completed before the current tax expires so it can be used to determine the sales tax rate to place on the ballot for voter approval.
I believe any sale of park land or facilities should only occur after there has been substantial public discussion and, in my opinion, should include a public vote to approve the sale of significant assets like the community centers.
NEW OWNERSHIP AT ZONA ROSA
Park: The decision to back bonds for Zona Rosa in 2007 was a mistake but defaulting on the bonds will make a bad situation even worse. Bonds will be needed in the future to finance infrastructure projects and because of the negative credit rating we will pay higher interest rates if we can even get bonds.
Platte County needs Zona Rosa to be successful for reasons other than to address the shortfall on the bond payments. Even at its lower occupancy level, the shopping center still provides jobs for residents and generates significant other tax revenue. For example, approximately $6.6 million in Zona Rosa real estate property taxes are paid annually by the property owners and it is a tourist attraction that brings outside dollars to our local economy. The Platte County Commission and regional partners need to be actively engaged with the owner and management company to ensure Zona Rosa is a viable shopping and entertainment center.
Schieber: I will continue to try to work with the new owners and other stakeholders of Zona Rosa to develop a long term, sustainable plan to protect the county taxpayers from the potential $17,000,000-$40,000,000 parking garage bond shortfall. It appears from my initial meeting with the new owners that they are interested in putting some much-needed capital and time into the project to improve occupancy, eliminate deferred maintenance and improve the performance of the asset. I am committed to work with all stakeholders to resolve this situation for the taxpayers. This situation was created in 2007 and may take a long period of time to resolve.
The current commission has implemented three ordinances that limit or prohibit future commissions from obligating taxpayers to non-core county services without a vote of the people