Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chiefs No. 59, Jovan Belcher, led Dobbs students through exercises on Tuesday, May 4. The Chiefs came to play with the children after scholl as part of the NFL's Play60 Program, which encourages kids to get 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Grandview Examines "Grim" Budget Forecast

By Seann McAnally

As 2011 approaches, Grandview officials are calling the budget forecast “grim.” 
 
The Board of Aldermen discussed the next fiscal year’s budget at a work session on May 18. 

 
Kirk Decker, assistant city administrator, said officials expect 2011 general fund revenues to be some $300,000 less than in 2010. 

 
“Current estimates indicate that we will begin the 2011 budget with a $315,000 deficit, which means various cost-cutting and revenue enhancement measures will have to be explored and implemented to offset anticipated revenue shortfalls and cost increases,” Decker said. 

 
The shortfall is due to several factors, he said, but the most obvious is that in 2010, the city received one-time funds that it can’t expect under normal circumstances. 

 
Specifically, the city this year received about $214,000 from T-Mobile in a payment from a 2007 telecommunications lawsuit, and a $102,000 loss control credit from the city’s insurance company. 

 
“Unfortunately, we can’t rely on those one-time revenue sources in 2011 and must rely on current revenues to fund operations,” Decker said. 

 
Other revenue for 2011 is projected to be more-or-less equal to what it was this year, except for a few key factors: 

 
Sales taxes dropped 9 percent in 2009 and another 7 percent in 2010. The sharpest decline was in the areas of food sales, vehicle sales, and construction-related supply sales. Decker said city officials expect this trend to reverse itself in 2011, but even with that increase, it won’t get back up to 2009 numbers. 

 
Real estate assessments are expected to be up about ½ percent, but that won’t make up for a drop of 6 percent in 2009. That forced the city to raise its property tax levy to the maximum allowed by the state. Even if property values increase, they are still below pre-2009 standards. 

 
The city receives payments for certain utilities through the so-called “franchise tax,” which includes electricity, gas, telephone, and other services. Sometimes what’s good for the consumer, Decker said, isn’t good for the city. For example, Missouri Gas Energy revenues are down almost 18 percent – a result of natural gas reserves being at historic highs, which has driven prices down. 

 
“While this has been great for consumers, it has been detrimental to the city franchise revenues,” Decker pointed out. “While we expect a slight increase in 2011, it is not anticipated that those revenues will reach their highs of 2008.”
Meanwhile, other taxes such as state gasoline, motor vehicle sales tax and fees and certain bank taxes are continuing to decline because of the national recession, Decker said. 

 
To make matters worse, Grandview is going to have some expenditures that it can’t do anything about. A new fire marshal will be hired in 2011, three full-time employees who are soldiers will return from active duty and will need to be paid again, and there is a 30 percent increase in costs associated with retired employees. 

 
Health insurance premiums are also going up, Decker said, and city officials are exploring how to make that have a minimal impact on city employees.
Decker said the city has taken steps to minimize the impact of the deficit by applying for federal “Jobs Now!” grants that would fund several frozen positions for 12 months. However, Decker said, those positions would have to be re-examined for 2012, because the federal grants would run out by then.
The budget process will begin in June, and must be completed by July.

39 C-1 Students to Attend Different Elementary Schools

By Mary Kay Morrow

During the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Directors May 20, final names were determined for the district’s eighth- and ninth-grade center and sixth- and seventh-grade center. 
 
“We must declare official names for our centers,” said Superintendent Dr. Marge Williams before proposing new names.

 
There was no discussion or dissent.

 
Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, the district’s eighth- and ninth-grade center, located in the current Hickman Mills High School, will be Hickman Mills Junior High School. Smith-Hale Middle School, which will house the district’s sixth- and seventh-grade center, will remain Smith-Hale Middle School. Ruskin High School will remain Ruskin High School. Voting was unanimous, with six board members in favor and one board member absent. 

 
In January, the board approved a Boundary Committee recommendation to reshape the district beginning with the 2010-11 school year, creating a single high school for grades 10-12, an eighth- and ninth-grade center and a sixth- and seventh-grade center. In February, the board approved a proposal making Ruskin High School the district’s high school, Hickman Mills High School the district’s eighth- and ninth-grade center and Smith-Hale Middle School the district’s sixth- and seventh-grade center. The current Ervin Middle School will be used for other district programs and staff. 

 
In a related vote, the full board confirmed a recommendation from the Boundary Committee to move 38 students in View High Apartments and View High Estates from Truman to Johnson Elementary. 


“The goal is to alleviate crowding at Truman and Engels,” said Jennings, adding that no solution has yet been found for crowding at Engels. 

 
The move will affect students living in an area roughly east of Raytown Road, south of Bannister and north of I-470.

 
The group has talked with the district’s bus company and found that the shift will mean “about four more minutes on the bus for these kids.”

 
With school districts city-wide in a state of flux, overall Hickman elementary enrollments are expected to decrease another 300 on top of declining enrollments over the last decade.

 
The committee has said they will hold a meeting to review changes with View High families who will be affected by these changes.

 
The Boundary Committee intends to continue to discuss district changes for the foreseeable future.

 
“We’d like to keep moving, keep going” said Jennings.  “We need to look at elementary boundaries as a whole and look at efficiencies.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Increase in Non-English Speakers Raises New Need


By Paul Thompson

The crowd inside Baptiste Educational Center’s gymnasium clapped thunderously. They whistled, stomped their feet, and cheered like they were at a raucous sporting event. But there was no competition, only pride, as parents cheered on their children who were participating in a “Celebrating Different Cultures” program.

This was the Hickman Mills C-1 School District’s English Language Learners (ELL) Parent Night, and the capacity crowd was there to enjoy many different styles of music, food, and dance. And there were plenty of cultures represented.

Between all the students participating in the ELL program in the Hickman Mills District, there are more than 25 different languages spoken, including Spanish, Korean, Arabic and Urdu.

The popularity of the evening underscored one hard-to-miss reality: there were an awful lot of people there that night. The trend in attendance at the ELL Parent Night mirrors the increase in non-English speakers throughout Grandview and South Kansas City.

Grandview’s C-4 District has seen an increase in students to its ELL program in each of the last four years. In 2005-2006, the Grandview School District had just 187 participants.  The 74 additional participants since then account for about 28% of the total number of students involved in ELL. The district now employs six full-time ELL teachers for the 261 students participating, and operates with a budget of just below $400,000.

In the Hickman Mills District, there are over 300 students participating in the ELL program. That’s why the district thinks it is so important to have a night celebrating diversity and the many cultures that are represented in the area.

“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity in the district,” said Hickman Mills C-1 District Superintendant Dr. Marge Williams. “Every year it seems like it gets larger and larger, and they’re excited about coming out and getting to celebrate their countries and their culture.”

The ELL programs at both school districts  are made available to help ease the transition for these students as they assimilate to the language and culture. The duties of the staff include instruction in English, collaboration with general education teachers on instructional strategies, as well as working with parents to let them know what they can do for their children.

Sometimes though, parents could use as much help with learning English as their children. 30% of ELL students do not speak English at home, which is a sign that the adults moving into the area who don’t speak fluent English could use some help along with their kids when it comes to learning resources. The Grandview Branch of the Mid-Continent Library is one outstanding source for just that type of help.

Over the past few months, Grandview’s library has been putting together an extensive Spanish Section for their branch.  The decision to put more emphasis on the section came as the number of Spanish-speaking individuals seeking to learn English increased at the library.

“We’ve always had a small Spanish language section, and we really started to expand it starting January and Feburary,” said Grandview Branch Manager Robert Miller.

The Mid-Continent Library has budgeted $25,000 for Spanish Section materials, to be split between the Grandview and Antioch branches.  The early response has been positive. Miller noted that the materials can be helpful to almost anyone.

“We get responses not only from Spanish speaking people, but also from teachers from local schools who have borrowed materials for their classrooms,” said Miller, who noted that some of their new materials are bilingual, which means they can also help English-speaking people learn Spanish.

Miller says that most of their initial haul of new materials consists of non-fiction items. It is what most of his patrons are interested in. Those are the types of materials that help Spanish-speaking individuals in their day-to-day lives.

“We are focusing a lot on self-help,” Miller said about their new collection. “How to do taxes, finding a job, becoming a citizen, home maintenance, are all common check-outs.”

With any luck, the resources available at the library can give adults the same advantages their kids receive through the ELL program.  If the enthusiasm for the new library section can match the enthusiasm for ELL’s Parent Night, it should be a sure thing.

Residents Get a Look at Future Red Bridge Project


(click on image for a larger view)

By Seann McAnally

Kansas City is seeking public input on designs for the second phase of Red Bridge Road improvements, and took their designs on the road last week to gather opinions. The improvements would run along Red Bridge from Blue River Rd. to Grandview Rd.

About 100 local residents attended the May 11 open house at Grace Point Baptist Church.

Sean Demory, communications manager with the Kansas City Capital Projects Office, showed residents proposed designs (see illustration on page 3), but stressed that it’s early in the project.

“These are still very much preliminary designs,” Demory said.

So preliminary, he said, that the project isn’t even funded yet.

“One thing to keep in mind is that funds have not been made available for construction,” he explained. “So at this point, we’re strictly on the design side of things.”

In general, residents were pleased with those designs – but that didn’t stop some from proposing minor tweaks to the plans.

“On the whole, I think it will be a great project,” said Vernon Wilson, president of the Terrace Lake Gardens homeowners association. “But we’d like to see some changes.”

Wilson said his HOA would like to see utility lines buried – the current plan calls for above-ground lines. He also has some concerns about traffic flow. Wilson also said many of his neighbors feel the city should install a stop light at Red Bridge Rd. and Jackson Rd. He said they also have doubts about a proposed roundabout at Blue River Rd. and Red Bridge Rd.

“Some of us have concerns about whether that can handle the traffic,” Wilson said, adding that many people are uncomfortable with roundabouts.

Finally, he said, nearby residents have told him they’re worried that trash and chemicals could get into nearby Terrace Lake, so Wilson asked city officials to think about installing some sort of filtration system to prevent that.

Others are dead-set against the project.

Teresa Edens, a former member of the Hickman Mills Board of Education, said she felt most residents in the area don’t like what’s happening to Red Bridge Rd.

“I still believe that the whole project is totally unnecessary,” she said. “They’re totally ruining the neighborhood. People like the country feel. This whole thing is a waste of money.”

Demory said he values all opinions – even those who are adamantly opposed to the project. Nevertheless, he said, the city is moving forward.

“What’s happening now is we’re collecting responses from the citizens, and we’re including those comments in the design work we’re doing,” Demory said. “We hope to complete the designs by late fall of this year. Then we’ll have a second open house, and at that point it will be in the hands of the City Council to find funding options.”

The first phase of Red Bridge improvements – which include the section from Holmes Rd. to Blue River Rd., including a new bridge over the Blue River and Union Pacific railroad tracks – have been under construction since March of this year, and is expected to be complete in October 2011.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Will Sam’s Club Stay or Will it Go?

By Seann McAnally and Andrea Wood

Is Sam’s Club moving to Belton? 

That seems to be the question of the moment. For more than a year, Belton officials have been attempting to lure the wholesale club – which generates more than 25 percent of Grandview’s city sales tax – to the Southtown Plaza development in Belton. 

Back in Grandview, however, the store is expanding and new signage. 


“To the best of our knowledge, we’re staying in Grandview,” said Todd Harris, club manager. 

Sam’s Club recently filed permits for new signage and exterior improvements, including a new canopy for the gasoline pumps. Harris said store officials also ahve plans for interior renovations and expansion. Two city officials said they believed a new pharmacy was slated for the store, but Sam’s Club officials could not confirm that.

The expansion is good news, said Cory Smith, Grandview’s city administrator. However, Smith said that the city is not making any assumptions as to whether Sam’s Club is staying in Grandview for the long haul until they hear from the store’s headquarters.

 “The last official word we got a year ago or so came by phone from the new CEO of Sam’s Club and former CEO of Sam’s Club,” Smith said. “They seemed adamant then that Sam’s was moving in 2011.”

Smith pointed out that the country’s economic situation has impacted many corporations, including Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

“If the current economic market has changed their plans for new store construction as it now appears, we can certainly hope that we not only benefit from that in the near-term, but maybe longer,” he said.

Meanwhile in Belton, developers have turned to the city officials there for additional assistance in courting Sam’s Club. April 13th, developers Robert Herman and Mike Neighbors approached the Belton City Council, asking them for help in their attempts to lure Sam’s Club from Grandview to their development at 71 Hwy and 163rd St. The developers wanted the council to pass a non-binding resolution stating that the city wanted Sam’s Club to locate to the Southtown Plaza Development. 

Belton Mayor Jimmy Odom refused, stating that while the city wanted Sam’s to come to Belton, they would not endorse a particular site. Belton Councilmembers agreed with the mayor, stating that it was not their job to “sell the site” at Y Highway. Herman and Neighbors told the council that they were concerned that the City of Raymore might be aggressively pursuing Sam’s Club to come to a development at their new 71 Highway / 187th Street interchange. 

Whatever Sam’s Club corporate officials have in mind, they’re not saying – at least for now. Harris, the Sam’s Club store manager, said that despite the political and economic maneuvers, no one at the store has been told they’re moving. He said the store has a good relationship with the citizens of Grandview and wants to maintain that relationship “for a long time.” 


Harris did say that he has not been personally involved in any of the negotiations involving the possibility of the store moving to Belton. 

Smith said with cities in the region struggling to promote themselves and improve their economies, competition for the store will continue to be fierce. 


The good news, Smith said, is that Grandview citizens who want Sam’s Club to stay here can do something about it.

 “Grandview has to show Wal-Mart that this area has the buying power to provide the sales they need to justify being here,” Smith said. “Otherwise, they will continue to look at other areas based on their market research.  Yes, it requires a membership card, but maybe some people don’t realize how much food they sell there, among other things including electronics, books…and soon a pharmacy.”

New Sprayground at John Anderson Park Takes Shape

By Andrea Wood
 
PHOTO: On April 21, Walker Family Flatwork poured the concrete color for the John Anderson Spray Ground, working around the early stages of the water features. (Photo by Don Fowner)

Workers have been busy at Grandview’s John Anderson Park this spring, helping to create what the city hopes will be a great destination for families this summer.
 
The park, located off 135th Street on the west side of Grandview, is receiving a $550,000 make-over complete with a new 4,000 square-foot playground, sprayground water park, and shelter house.
 
When it opens in June, the free sprayground will include unique water features called The Misty Twisty, Water Cannon, Wally Whale Tail, Spray Loop Tunnel, and others.Mark your calendars for a fun ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for Saturday, June 5th at 10am, wth food and fun planned from 11 am-2:00 pm.
The Grandview Elks will be grilling up hot dogs, hamburgers, and will bring plenty chips and drinks for everyone as families enjoy being the first to explore the new park features.
 
A new restroom is also planned for John Anderson Park, which is scheduled for completion in July.
 
The project is funded by a $7.5 million bond approved by voters in August 2008.


Harry’s Hay Days Parade on Saturday

The 27th annual Harry’s Hay Days parade honoring President Harry S Truman, who helped shape our community, will be held this Saturday, May 15th along Main Street in Grandview.

This year’s parade starts at 10 a.m., and the theme is “From the Farm to the White House.” The parade will feature local elected officials, antique cars, youth organizations, the GHS Marching Band, Flags and Cheerleaders, hydrolic “low rider” cars, and a Harry Truman impersonator. 


After the parade, Freedom Park behind Grandview City Hall will be the center of free ‘old fashioned’ fun. The American Legion Band will perform, hot dogs will be cooked on the grill, and activities will range from chair massages to video games. A special appearance by “RoboDog,” Grandview High School’s robot, will also be nearby. 


For history buffs, the city’s historic Depot Museum in Freedom Park will be open from noon - 3pm. Self-guided walking tours of the Grandview’s National Historic Registry Residential District and the Original Downtown will also be underway.


The original Truman Farm Home on Blue Ridge (across from Sonic) will be open from 1pm - 4pm. Following this weekend, tours of the Truman Farm Home will be at no cost on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30am-4pm. Call 254-2720 for more information.


If you are interested in participating in the parade, contact Helen Gross at 816-966-0051 or e-mail her at hgross@kc.rr.com.

8 am - Noon - Lion’s Club Pancake Breakfast

10 am - Parade on Main Street

11 am - Free food & activities in Freedom Park, Self-guided tours of Grandview residential Historic District

11am - 3pm- Historic Depot
Museum in Freedom Park Open

1-4 pm - Truman Farm
Home Tours

KCMO Urban Agriculture Zoning and Development Code Revision

The Kansas City Council ended public testimony May 12 on impending changes to its Urban Agriculture ordinance.  Code revisions are being considered in order to broaden parameters for urban farmers of home gardens, community gardens and community-supported agriculture, or CSAs.   No final vote was taken as proponents and opponents continue to garner support.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Hero’s Homecoming for a WWII Hero’s Donkey

By Joe Dimino
JCA Contributing Writer

Grandview’s famous donkey, Ebenezer, is finally back home.


Just shy of 12 weeks, Ebenezer fully recovered from a list of ailments at Equine Health Solutions in Raymore, Missouri. Over the harsh Kansas City winter, the 30+-year old donkey was suffering from white line disease in all four of his hooves, his gums were badly diseased to the point here he couldn’t eat hard foods and his lung was filling with fluid. Overall, the prognosis for survival and rehabilitation was bleak, at best.


"I had almost given up. He was in such bad shape,” said Ebenezer’s owner Ben Alvarado, an 85-year old local WWII veteran. “I just didn't know what to do."
 

The Jackson County Advocate ran the first article about Ebenezer’s condition, which was followed up by a host of Kansas City media outlets. Within days, the Kansas City metro exhibited a grand dose of Midwestern hospitality and grace by donating over $10,000 to get Ebenezer back on his feet. 

“The outpouring of help and well wishes from the people of  greater Kansas City and even from around the country was overwhelming,” noted Shirley Phillips, friend and caregiver to Ebenezer over his weeks of rehabilitation. “The cards and letters that people sent with their donations were so touching.”


Over the months of rehabilitation, Ebenezer had a Facebook page to chart his progress and amassed a host of new cyber friends. In addition, a dedicated web portal at www.ebenezerthedonkey.com was created to celebrate the life of an animal that has lifted the spirits of many folks over the years. 


As the 83 days of healing went on, he gradually began gaining back his strength and health.


“Watching how Ebenezer treats all the people he meets has taught me that the human race needs to be more like him,” Phillips said. “He just simply accepts everybody for who they are.”


On a perfect spring day in late April, Ebenezer emerged anew from a trailer to grace the field he has called home for over three decades just off Main street in Grandview. As he trotted towards his new shed with a concrete floor adorned with signage and his own street sign, he began to amble with his new hooves away from the throng of friends and media that greeted him.


"It's so good to have him back home,” Alvarado said with a smile while watching Ebenezer wander close by. "It's great how everyone helped. I have never seen anything like it before."


Ben and his wife Victoria were inspired to have a donkey in their lives after a trip to Israel in 1967, where they saw children joyfully playing with a donkey. When they returned home to South Kansas City, they purchased two-year old Ebenezer.


“I decided to name him Ebenezer because it means that God has brought us this far,” Ben said. “I think about how Ebenezer has brought us this far.”
As the police escort and friends started to walk away from Ebenezer’s field, the donkey began to settle into his life while cars slowed to see that he was back in his rightful home. 


“He has truly touched many people over the years and just keeps on bringing people together,” Phillps said. “Maybe that's why God put him here - to teach us all to be more tolerant and friendly towards each other.”


Hallelujah. Ebenezer is home.
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Ebenezer is still unable to eat foods he used to. Folks can still visit him, but please give him  apples and pears  that are peeled and cut into small squares. If you want to feed him carrots, they should be grated.

Grandview Officials Revise Vote on Truman Corners


By Seann McAnally

There’s a difference between voting to make the Truman Corners TIF voidable, and actually voiding the shopping center’s TIF, Grandview Aldermen clarified last week. 

On April 13, the board found in a 4-2 vote that the developers of the shopping center had shown cause why the TIF should not be voided, and that certain parts of the plan should be amended to make it easier for the developer to find tenants for the center. 

But that vote left a bad taste in the mouth of a few aldermen, who felt that the developer hadn’t really shown any evidence that the plan shouldn’t be voided. In fact, they felt that the city’s attorney, Joe Lauber, did a good job proving that the shopping center is actually worse off today than it was when the TIF was formed 13 years ago. 

However, the board didn’t want to take the TIF away entirely, but to give the developer more time and tools to make a success of the shopping center, which has consistently lost tenants, sales tax and property value over the life of the TIF. 

At a work session the following week, aldermen Steve Dennis and Annette Turnbaugh said they would have voted differently if they had clearly understood the legalese of the ordinance. 

“Saying the TIF is voidable isn’t the same as saying it is voided,” Dennis explained. “I do believe the TIF is voidable, but I didn’t want to see it immediately dissolved.”

He said he didn’t realize he could vote that it was “voidable” without actually voiding it. 

Turnbaugh agreed. 

“The choices we had didn’t clarify that we could deem it voidable and still go on and have negotiations (with the developer),” Turnbaugh explained.

At the April 27 meeting, Dennis introduced a motion to rescind the earlier 4-2 vote that the TIF was not voidable. Instead, the board passed a resolution that the TIF is voidable, and that the developer has six months to show some real progress on the center. 

The board will hold a public hearing in October to give the developer another chance to show why the TIF shouldn’t be voided. 

So in the end, nothing has changed from the previous vote, other than aldermen Dennis and Turnbaugh are now on record as saying they believe the TIF is voidable. 

The developer of the property is technically UMB Bank, but the bank holds the property as a trustee, and bank documents state they have no direct responsibility over the management of the center. 

Attorney Bill Moore, of the King Hershey law firm, which specializes in helping corporate clients receive, keep and modify tax increment financing and other development incentives, asked on April 13 that the board change the TIF contract to make it easier for shopping center management to secure tenants. 


Specifically, the developers want a stipulation removed that the old Montgomery Wards building must go to a 150,000-square-foot tenant. When that happens, “phase two” of the project kicks in, and the developer will be required to make further improvements to the shopping center. 

The deadline for that came and went two years ago. Meanwhile the owners of the property have successfully appealed multiple tax assessments, which lowered the value of the property – a practice city attorneys called “contrary to the purpose of the TIF.” 

The board directed city staff to negotiate with the developer to amend the TIF so that a smaller store in the 25,000 to 50,000-square-foot range, such as a Marshalls or TJ Max would satisfy the requirements of the plan. 

While city officials were hesitant to be directly quoted saying anything negative about the center, most said the developers simply haven’t done everything in their power to make the shopping center a success.