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Kansas City, Kan., police are reporting that I-635 southbound at Kansas Avenue has been shut down as a result of a fatal accident about 1 a.m. Dec. 19.

South I-635 to Kansas Avenue has been shut down, and also, westbound Kansas Avenue was shut down.

We will try to have more information on this later.

In a meeting with state legislators from Wyandotte County tonight, Unified Government lobbyist Mike Taylor said the UG’s top legislative priority will be protecting the revenues it receives from the state government.

“The Kansas Legislature should not continue solving its budget shortfalls by taking revenues belonging to or legally obligated to city and county governments,” Taylor said.

It also should not place more of the burden of funding vital services on local taxpayers, he said.

He specifically said he was concerned about the local alcoholic liquor funds, special city-county highway fund, motor fuel taxes, community mental health funds, and community corrections funding as being in need of protection.

He said that $19.5 million in local government funds is allocated through the state for 2015. The biggest part of that is the city-county street and highway fund at $6.6 million, he said.

The state faces a shortfall of $279 million in fiscal year 2015, Taylor said. The governor has proposed 4 percent budget cuts to state agencies, $280 million in cuts, a $40 million reduction to state retirement contributions, and a $95.7 million transfer from the state highway fund. There is a projected $648 million revenue shortfall in the state for fiscal 2016.

While state transportation projects for 2015 and 2016 would be completed, it is a 10-year plan, so state transportation projects in future years may be in jeopardy, he said.

The UG is concerned with a state solution that would shift more work and cost burdens to local governments. The state besides making cuts or eliminating services, also could consider slowing the income tax cuts, eliminating sales tax exemptions and changing the way agricultural land is taxed, he said.

Taylor said during the past several years, the UG had to cut budgets and furlough employees, partly because of the recession, and also because of cuts in state funding.

According to Taylor, those cuts in state funding in the recent years included the elimination of the mortgage registration fee, which cost the UG $500,000 in fiscal year 2015 and is anticipated to cost $1.8 million annual in five years; the repeal of the machinery and equipment tax since 2006 has cost the UG $10 million annually and caused a $130 million drop in assessed value; the reduction of the delinquent tax interest rate by 2 percent, from 6 percent to 4 percent, is estimated to cost the UG about $300,000 annually in penalty interest and may encourage nonpayment of taxes; suspension of local ad valorem tax reduction fund in 2003, is an estimated loss to the UG of about $3 million annually with a cumulative loss of $36 million.

As an example of state work that had been shifted to the UG, Taylor mentioned the motor vehicle department’s computer system that was redone at the state level, that caused the UG to hire four new people at a cost of $200,000, and even more workers hired later, because of title work shifted down to the county level that the state formerly did.

The UG’s top legislative priorities for 2015 include abandoned housing, to streamline the process for local government to deal with abandoned housing; city elections, the UG and other municipalities oppose a movement to move spring city elections to the fall; law enforcement mutual aid to allow law enforcement agencies to cooperate on both sides of the state line in a critical incident; Medicaid expansion, which would help urban residents and hospitals, as well as rural hospitals; and urban opportunity zones, which might be a way to help rebuild some urban neighborhoods.

Other UG legislative issues are unclaimed checks, which are suggested to be returned to the UG treasury if the amount is less than $20 and it had not been cashed in about two years; delinquent tax interest rate, proposed to return to its former level; and broadband restrictions, opposing a bill that would prevent local governments to do broadband.

This year, several state legislators attended the UG’s legislative platform presentation at City Hall.

Mayor Mark Holland said the Wyandotte County delegation has worked hard to prevent difficult or bad legislation from Topeka. When Wyandotte County has been hit hard financially, it is not because of the Wyandotte County delegation, which works in support of the county, he said.

Because the UG meeting started just two hours after Wyandotte County senators were supposed to be in Topeka for a meeting of Democratic senators, Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., was unable to be at the UG meeting because he planned to attend the meeting in Topeka, and Sen. Pat Pettey participated by phone to the Topeka meeting and arrived late at the UG meeting.

Mark Gilstrap
Mark Gilstrap

Mark Gilstrap, a former state senator in the Piper area of Kansas City, Kan., has filed for Unified Government Commission, 1st District, at large.

Gilstrap, who filed Dec. 18, said he was running to be an asset on the UG Commission with his experience in finance.

Gilstrap, 62, retired Dec. 17 from the UG Finance Department, treasury division, where he worked 33 years. He is a former city treasurer, former deputy county treasurer, and his last title was deputy revenue director. He said at the current time, there isn’t much experience on the UG Commission in the accounting field.

“We need somebody to jump in and take the bull by the horns, look at the budget, and see if everything is being spent wisely,” Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap served in the state Senate from 1997 to 2008, and he was the Wyandotte County Republican chairman until recently, when he decided not to run for re-election. The current chairman is Joe Ward. Gilstrap still is a precinct committeeperson.

He said while in the state Senate, he voted to allow the people to vote for the casino, and they did vote for it heavily. He noted that at the time of the vote, it was expected that funds from the casino and developments would be used to reduce taxes here.

“I’m asking myself, with all this money coming in, why are we still having to raise taxes, and why are we one of the highest counties in the state for unemployment, when a couple thousands people are working at the Legends and the casino?” Gilstrap asked.

STAR (sales tax revenue) bonds from The Legends were supposed to help reduce taxes, but instead, it appears that other STAR bond projects were created, he said.

He said those are questions he would like to look into if elected.

He said that he does not support property tax increases. He said he supports more efficient management of government departments, and finding ways to collect delinquent tax money that is owed to the UG.

While he supports the idea of a new convention center being built in western Wyandotte County, perhaps near the casino, he would look more closely at the mayor’s downtown Healthy Campus proposal, he said. He said he did not feel confident that he would support it unless it had strong non-UG funding behind it. He said he was not sure of how much use the downtown development would receive.

Gilstrap said he was confident that he could work with everyone on the commission. As a state senator, he was in the minority party and had to work with the majority party, and could work with both, he said.

He said that he expects to have some name recognition when he runs for office. It will be the fourth election for the 1st District, at large seat, with a Gilstrap on the ballot. His brother, Mike, previously ran for the office and served in the office in 2003. Mike Gilstrap ran for re-election in 2007 and lost to Mark Holland by 31 votes. Mike Gilstrap was defeated again by Holland in 2011. The Gilstrap name has been on the ballot for this seat four times.

“I think it’s a good thing because a lot of these races are name recognition,” Mark Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap has stayed involved with the Kansas City, Kan., Chamber’s Congressional Forum luncheon, Bonner Springs Chamber of Commerce, Polish-American Club, Community Housing of Wyandotte County, and Leavenworth Road Association.

He is a graduate of Rockhurst College with an accounting majority, and is married to the former JoAnne Mantel, who is the pharmacist in charge at the Legends Walmart. They have three adults children and three grandchildren.

Gilstrap is the second person this year to file for the 1st District, at large seat. The first was Christal Watson.

There is no incumbent in the 1st District seat, as it was formerly held by Mayor Mark Holland. The commission deadlocked on filling the seat, unable to reach six votes on the finalists for the appointed position, and it has remained vacant.