Monday, April 1, 2013

Mayoral candidates spar on property taxes in final debate


In a campaign that will determine the future of Wyandotte County, two votes in the past highlighted today's final debate between mayoral candidates Mark Holland and Ann Murguia.

Holland's two votes that raised the mill levy and Murguia's two votes against the mill levy increases.

Hosted by Steve Kraske of KCUR and The Kansas City Star, the debate opened up with discussion about the recent flyers that have swamped homes in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.

One flyer, paid for by the conservative-leaning Americans for Prospect PAC, targeted Holland's votes to raise the mill levy.

However, Holland defended his votes, saying that layoffs in both the police and fire department would have been inevitable if the mill levy was not increased.

"I feel it was the right thing to do," Holland said. "It was the wrong decision to vote against 10 percent of our police force."

Holland, who was elected along with Murguia to the Unified Government's Board of Commissioners in 2007, said the UG has done well in lowering the property tax burden since unification.

"You have to look long-term," Holland said. "If you've looked at our progress, you've seen the consistent decline of property taxes."

As Holland defended his votes in increasing the rates, Murguia defended her votes opposing the property tax increases.

"There were a lot more options instead of laying people off and increasing taxes," she said. "We have a quarter billion dollar budget. We need to determine what our priorities are. The Unified Government is trying to be everything for everyone."

Murguia equated the Unified Government's budget to the budget of a family.

"When you look at how to spend a paycheck, you determine what's best for both of you," she said. "It all comes down to priorities."

Holland countered that 80 percent of the UG budget is dedicated to salaries - and that 50 percent of it is for public safety.

"We didn't have any other options," he said, adding that 120 additional KCK residents would have lost jobs if the mill levy increase did not pass.

Murguia, the only UG commissioner who voted against the two recent property tax increases, again disagreed with the assessment that the property tax increases were the only options.

"There were lots of suggestions made (during the budget sessions)," she said. "More people continued to come forward for funding and additional funding was approved."

Murguia also pointed to her endorsements from the Kansas City, Kan., firefighters union, along with the endorsement from the Kansas City, Kan., police officers union, to counter the argument about public safety layoffs.

Both Murguia and Holland also claimed to be the courageous candidate for their votes.

"I stood alone," Murguia said, of being the only commissioner to vote against the property tax rate increase. "It's difficult going against the political machine."

Holland said the tough votes are needed to be a courageous leader.

"When you dial 911, that's paid for by a property tax," he said. "When (emergency services) arrive in eight minutes, that's paid for by a property tax. We need courageous leadership."