Sunday, February 24, 2013


Publisher's Note: We continue looking at candidates across Wyandotte County. Here's Daniel Serda, who's running for the Unified Government Board of Commissioners. 

What in your background (or what experience) makes you believe you are qualified to serve on the Unified Government Board of Commissioners?

As a KCK native, I've been an advocate for stronger neighborhoods since high school. That passion has motivated my professional career as an educator and city planner, as well as my many commitments to public service over the past decade.  My résumé speaks for itself - but my values, passion and commitment to moving the community forward are my primary credentials for this position.

Although I've never sought elected office, I've served on numerous public bodies and steering committees. My record as a Unified Government Planning Commissioner demonstrates my ability to consider all points of view, and to find common ground on frequently contentious issues. I helped the Rosedale Development Association formulate the plan that is bringing new sidewalks, bike lane and natural trails to the Southwest Boulevard corridor.

As a member of Mayor Reardon's Bi-State Innovations Team, I was an outspoken advocate for leveraging Google Fiber to bridge the digital divide and bring economic opportunity within the reach of young people throughout our community.

Throughout these experiences, I've built strong working relationships with Unified Government staff, which I expect to continue and expand as At-Large Commissioner.

As a candidate, what would be your top three priorities as a commissioner in Wyandotte County?

Property Tax Relief. Our county's high tax rates not only depress housing values, they pose an unfair burden on working-class families and our seniors.

Public Safety and Neighborhood Revitalization. We need well-trained first responders to ensure that every family is safe and every neighborhood is secure. We also need to nurture grassroots leadership and re-invigorate community development efforts to transform and sustain neighborhoods county-wide.

Economic Development. We not only need new retail and services east of I-635, we need to support existing small businesses and nurture new entrepreneurs. We need to streamline development approvals and make more strategic use of financial incentives to build a dynamic, diversified local economy for the 21st century.

A two-part question - What distinguishes you as the top candidate for this position and what differences should voters in Wyandotte County look at before making their choice?

People respect my professionalism and dedication.  At heart, I'm a city kid who has had incredible opportunities and made it a priority to give back.  Growing up in a working class family, I developed a deep and abiding respect for ordinary people.  I'm just as comfortable talking to a bank president or elected official as I am visiting with a neighbor across the fence, or conversing in Spanish with a merchant on Central Avenue.  I think those qualities of humility and respect for all people are what makes me the top candidate.

In looking at the ballot, voters should look beyond names and slogans and evaluate each candidate's commitment to the important responsibilities attached to this position, and vision for moving the community forward.

An At-Large Commissioner can be a fifth wheel, or a guiding force in building consensus.  Each At-Large Commissioner chairs two of the four Unified Government standing committees, where much of the Commission's necessary (but not necessarily glamorous) work is done.  In that role, I will tap into the energy and expertise of staff and community leaders to ensure that we are making effective use of scarce resources and prioritizing infrastructure and public safety investments.

My major commitment is to ensure that the Unified Government becomes more responsive and accountable to citizens and taxpayers. Nearly 2/3 of local tax revenues fund personnel costs. Taxpayers have the right to expect high levels of customer service and a friendly attitude that helps them navigate the local bureaucracy. Taxpayers also deserve elected officials who understand that ethics is not a buzzword - the community's interests have to come first.

I expect to build strong working relationships with our new Mayor and other elected officials, based on trust and mutual respect - whether or not we agree on every issue. I don't have the patience or time for posturing and bickering that does little to advance the community's interests.

In the next three to four years, millions of dollars will become available after the city finishes off paying bonds that were issued to increase the economic development in Western Wyandotte County. As a commissioner on the Unified Government's board, how would you encourage that money to be spent?

I wouldn't encourage the money to be spent. If forecasts hold and the Unified Government Treasury indeed faces a revenue windfall, the logical priority is a long-term reduction in our mill levy. This will help bring our property tax rates down to a level that is fiscally responsible and more competitive with surrounding communities.

Our County faces numerous underfunded obligations, such as neglected infrastructure, environmental and ADA compliance, and maintenance of our public parks and facilities. New revenues should be used to address those needs, but only as part of a long-range, sustainable capital maintenance and improvements plan.

Once our fiscal house is in order, we will be much better positioned to compete and attract new residents and major employers.

What in your opinion are the three biggest challenges facing Wyandotte County? If you feel there are more than three to list, feel free too.

1) Reducing our property tax burden, particularly for working families and seniors.

2) Strengthening the tax base throughout the county, and ensuring that our development policies target good jobs, not just real estate development.

3) Building a culture of collaboration, professionalism and accountability in local government.

Do you feel the Unified Government can do more to increase growth in areas outside of Western Wyandotte County, particularly the northeast part of Wyandotte County?

Of course we can. We can start by supporting existing small businesses, who are frustrated that they are not offered the same types of tax relief as major developers. We need to develop master plans for our neighborhood business districts, and invest strategically in upgrading infrastructure, improving public safety, and building up the identity of our commercial avenues to attract a new generation of private entrepreneurs. With the right recruitment policies and targeted incentives for building rehab., we can refill empty storefronts, rebuild our tax base and bring back the vibrancy that was once found throughout the urban core.

We also need to change our community development priorities. The Unified Government spends more each year demolishing buildings than we do investing in homeownership and housing rehabilitation. This is a tragedy. We should be developing programs that help seniors and working families maintain their homes and enjoy safe neighborhoods.

Working with partners like KCK Community College, we can aggressively pursue technology and advanced manufacturing, design and product fabrication to expand our commercial and industrial tax base. We've landed some major wins recently with Cerner and General Motors, along with smaller, cutting-edge enterprises like Display Studios and Epiq Systems. We also need to make sure that major development agreements include workforce development and training opportunities to put Wyandotte County residents at the head of the line for economic opportunity.