Burroughs, Rios contend for UG Commission, 2nd District at large

J.D. Rios, left, and Tom Burroughs are running for the Unified Government Commission, 2nd District at large. They were preparing for the candidate forum Oct. 17 at KCKCC. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

by Mary Rupert

An open seat on the Unified Government Commission has attracted two candidates who have served in public office for years in other capacities.

Tom Burroughs, a state representative and former House minority leader, and John “J.D.” Rios, a Kansas City Kansas Community College trustee and former Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools administrator, are running for the Unified Government Commission, Second District at large. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Commissioner Hal Walker is not seeking re-election to the UG seat, which serves the south side of Wyandotte County. In the general election, the vote for the seat is countywide. There was no primary contest for the seat, as only two candidates filed.

Twenty years ago, Rios said he was a member of the Citizens for Consolidation, and he is running now to ensure the fulfillment of the promise of prosperity across the county.

“Consolidation was but a step in the right direction,” Rios said at a candidate forum Oct. 17 at KCKCC. “There are many other steps that need to be followed.”

As former Kansas House Democratic leader, Burroughs said at a candidate forum on Oct. 17 at KCKCC that he recognized the challenges local governments and local leaders face under this administration.

He said that serving as minority leader allowed him to build coalitions, work in a bipartisan manner, and listen to multiple concerns and issues across all facets of the state and communities. He has met with many if not all organizations, worked with them and collaborated with them in the 21 years he served in the Kansas Legislature, he said.

“I believe those experiences will provide me the necessary tools to be a great partner with our local leaders and to do what we can to make Wyandotte County a brighter, better community as we move forward collectively,” Burroughs said.

Both candidates said the top issue for residents is property taxes.

“I want to bring some stability and accountability to our appraisal and valuation process so we can lower the property tax burden on the shoulders of the taxpayers,” Burroughs said. Another issue important to Burroughs is investment in the infrastructure, he said.

“We need to find a way to bring our assessment and valuation more in line with one another,” Burroughs said. “Then and only then will you be able to reinvest in your community and your neighborhood to make them whole and invest in the infrastructure that is so sorely needed.”

Rios agreed that taxes are a top concern, and said the UG should deal with the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) first.

“All citizens, whether they are property owners, or renters, pay the tax, so immediate relief for all citizens would be with the PILOT,” Rios said.

While he would lower it for individuals, those businesses that do not pay property taxes should still pay the PILOT, he said. He would keep the percentage the same for those who do not pay property taxes, but for those citizens who need additional resources, he suggested the UG should address the PILOT.

Rios said one of the reasons he is running is that the Hispanic population is 28 percent of the county, and there is no Hispanic representation. It is important not just to celebrate diversity, but to make sure government is representative of diversity, he said. It is necessary to have a strong community advocate, he said.

“That is the way to go about combatting oppression, is being part of the solution,” Rios said.

Burroughs said oppression is very offensive, and it holds people back, but Wyandotte County has been oppressed a long time by a high tax burden, by a mass exodus, by a school system challenged by underfunding from the state, and by a public safety image.

“We can control the destiny of our community by electing strong leaders, leaders that have a track record of success,” Burroughs said, leaders who can put aside their personal agendas – no hidden agendas, just a vision of what the community should look like, he added.

Both candidates said they are in support of the UG’s public safety departments.

Rios said the UG currently has shortages in public safety departments, and needs to get to capacity to ensure public safety. He said he had ideas on how to better recruit to fill the positions that are open in the public safety sector.

Burroughs said public safety personnel deserve utmost respect and support in everything they do. “As a city of the first class, we deserve to have law enforcement on the street that is well-equipped, well-funded and well-supported,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs said he would work in a collaborative manner with others to advance a vision for the community. He said the community is the “phoenix on the plains” as it has seen more than just development in Village West, it has seen an increase in housing stock in Argentine and Armourdale, and highway and government investment downtown. His vision is one of long-term fiscal and stable revenue stream and long-term viability, he said.

Rios said Village West’s success needs to be sustained, and there now needs to be Village Midtown and Village East. Not just businesses, but also individuals need incentives, he said. There should be a 20 percent reduction long-term for the property tax, he said. In the short term, he suggested an abatement of 20 percent on the property tax for teachers, health care professionals and UG employees. This would cost one-third of a mill, he said.

Other issues were discussed at the candidate forum, and to see a video of the forum with candidates for UG, Second District at large, visit https://www.youtube.com/user/KCECable.

The candidate forum video also is playing on the KCKCC cable channel, on Spectrum (Time Warner) on channel 17, and on Google TV on channel 146, at 3 p.m. in the afternoons daily through Nov. 6.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Advance voting is taking place; to find out about advance voting and advance voting places, visit http://wycovotes.org/.

To view more stories about the election, click on Election 2017.

Candidates running for Unified Government Commission appeared at a candidate forum on Sept. 20 at Kansas City Kansas Community College, sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. From left to right were Rep. Tom Burroughs, running for 2nd District at large; and J.D. Rios, running for 2nd District at large. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

The candidates’ answers to a Wyandotte Daily questionnaire are below:

Tom Burroughs

Retired, Colgate-Palmolive Co.

Washington High School
KCKCC (Associate’s)
Friends University (Continued Studies)

Organizations, clubs, groups to which you belong.
Chair of the Kansas Athletic Commission
3rd Saturday Democrat Breakfast
Kansas State Legislature
Member of the Border War Task Force
Graduate of Leadership 2000 Class 3

Reasons for running
As former House Democratic Leader in the Kansas Legislature, I recognize the challenges elected leaders and local governments face. I offer my experiences and success as a leader to assist in building a brighter Wyandotte County at the local level.

What is your top campaign issue?
Property tax relief/reduction.

What is your position on property taxes and other taxes?
Property taxes are too high and our sales taxes have grown to be a burden on working families. Sales tax reduction (especially on food) must be reduced.

If you are an incumbent, list your top accomplishments in office. If you are not an incumbent, what would you change?
Prioritize our investment in infrastructure. Throughout our community there is a need for investment in our infrastructure. Many of our roads, curbs, and sidewalks are in need of repair and replacement. Our easements, right-of-ways, and vacant lots are eye sores and health hazards that diminish the value of our neighborhoods. We should be encouraging investment in the maintenance, replacement, and development throughout our community to provide better connectivity and walk-ability.

Have you run for elected office previously? When, results?
Yes, I presently serve as State Representative and Precinct Committeeman.

Include any achievements you have accomplished
11 terms in the Kansas Legislature
Assistant Democratic Leader (4 years)
Former Minority Leader of the Kansas House (2 years)
KBI Crime Lab at the KCKCC
Carried the first Star Bonds Bill for Kansas Motor Speedway including the 400 Acre Amendment for the Legends
Established the Kansas Athletic Commission
Instrumental in the passage of the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act (Gaming)

John “J.D.” Rios

Retired educator

Graduated from Wyandotte High School, Emporia State University with a Bachelor degree, and UMKC with a Master’s degree

Organizations, clubs, groups to which you belong
Just to name a few of the non-profit community service boards I have been actively involved with and also had leadership roles on are: the United Way of Wyandotte County, the NAACP of Kansas City, Kansas, El Centro, the REACH Foundation Community Advisory Board, Wyandot Mental Health Center, the Juvenile Corrections Advisory Board, the Hispanic Advisory Board for UMKC, and the Human Relations Commission for the Unified Government of KCK/WyCo. I have Pre-K through 16 experience with my career and volunteer boards and committees.

Reasons for running
I have a strong desire to continue to be of service to the community I care so deeply about and that has done so much for me and my family. I have experience, knowledge, and skills that equip me to be an effective advocate for all our citizens. Representative government is essential to viable government service. In these volatile times, it is important for our local government to reflect the demographic makeup of our community. Currently, 28 percent of our population is Hispanic, yet there is not one Hispanic commissioner. For a community as diverse as ours, that celebrates its diversity as a strength in all it does, it’s time to have an elected Hispanic commissioner.

What is your top campaign issue?
Actually, 3 areas have been consistently raised by voters, tax relief, maintaining a safe and livable city, and having commissioners who are responsive and open communicators to the citizens and fellow commissioners. I am anxious to work with my fellow commissioners and the mayor to build upon the current initiatives and to establish new initiatives designed to lower property taxes and the BPU PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes). I think we can achieve these goals and still support our police and fire departments and the Parks Master Plan in the budget process. Look for ways to increase the number of and participants in the current concept of the UG’s community listening tours as a means for growing citizens input for development issues and other policy matters.

What is your position on property taxes and other taxes?
The voters are being very clear in saying reduce their taxes, not just the tax rate (mills). I will look for innovative ways brought by developers, neighborhood advocates, urban planners and the like to increase home ownership across our county. I suggest that the UG could transfer property it owns to developers that agree to specific construction projects designed to further the UG’s Master Plan. There could be limited property tax abatement (20 percent reduction over the life of the mortgage) for those employed in public service such as teachers in local schools, public health professionals in local clinics and hospitals, and UG employees. Property tax reduction will come in the long term with strengthening economic development and targeted incentives for businesses and individuals. There should be less reliance on the BPU PILOT. It could be reduced for residents and kept at the current level for businesses that do not pay property taxes. This would make the “in lieu of taxes” actually true.

If you are an incumbent, list your top accomplishments in office. If you are not an incumbent, what would you change?
A commissioner needs a whole county perspective. Decisions should be made based in part on how there is a positive impact for “all” with whatever we do for any one district or part of our city/county. It is unwise to foster an environment putting district against district or certain personalities favored over others. We need a team approach. There must be a professional decorum and the art of compromise among our commissioners. I have a background to assist with establishing such a collaborative culture.

Have you run for elected office previously? When, results?
I have been elected to 3 four-year terms as a Trustee for our Kansas City Kansas Community College from 2005 to 2017.

Include any achievements you have accomplished
During my tenure, my fellow trustees have elected me Board Chair 4 times and Vice-Chair 2 times. I’ve also served as finance committee chairman for 8 years. I’m a respected and trusted leader with experience with our taxing system and budget process. My fellow trustees and I have overseen the building of the state of the art Tom Burke Technical Education Center, upgraded campus facilities including but not limited to the MaryAnn Flunder Lodge, the baseball, softball, and soccer fields, new police training center, and new fire science training center. The college has grown the Saturday Math and Science Academy which serves youth from across our county and the Summer Youth Camp. The college supports our local school district’s efforts to further their goals for all students to be college and career ready with program such as Diploma+. The college also has been a collaborative partner with UG workforce development efforts.

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