Thursday, August 24, 2017

Union head, BOA clash over safety tax details

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

Divided public opinion on the prospect of a public safety tax vote and its ultimate usage brought Bill Galvin and Mayor Leonard Jones face to face during last week’s Grandview Board of Aldermen work session.

“I think you know why I’m here,” said Galvin, president of Local 42, Grandview’s sole bargaining union for firefighters and EMTs. “You’ve heard what (the public safety sales tax) can do. We’d like to know what the issue is with not putting it on the ballot.”

Mayor Leonard Jones asked Galvin to explain why the public safety sales tax issue has become a priority for Local 42 to push in front of Grandview’s voting population. Galvin and his organization have been leading the charge to persuade city elected officials to put the tax on a future ballot. Discussion during public comments during previous meetings, social media posts and paid advertisements expressing Local 42’s dissatisfaction with the Board of Aldermen and Grandview’s Mayor prompted last week’s meeting. 

“Why didn’t this come up last year, the year before, or the year before that?” asked Jones. “What has changed?”

Galvin credited the urgency to legislation passed recently, while Jones and City Administrator Cory Smith said that the legislation Galvin referred to has been established for quite some time. As far as Galvin knows, there has not been an issue in other municipalities with getting a public safety sales tax on the ballot.

“I think it’s time to put it on there,” said Galvin. “You keep losing firefighters and getting new ones, I don’t know, every three months. I think you’ve lost 12 in the last nine months. I’d like to work as a partnership instead of going against each other, but I don’t know what the deal is why you wouldn’t want it on there.”

 Ward III Alderman Jim Crain said that, despite Local 42 claiming through advertisements and social media the Aldermen are anti-public safety, he was instrumental in equipping police vehicles with mobile data units, bringing thermal imaging cameras to the department, and demanding that all three ambulances be outfitted with electronic-powered cots to prevent injuries. 

“If you had done your homework, you would know that over the years that I’ve been sitting here I’ve been a very, very strong supporter of public safety,” said Crain. “I’m surprised you would even question my support of public safety. I support the public safety sales tax. My guess is that between three and six months we’ll have it on the ballot.”

While Crain said that several discussions have taken place regarding putting the public safety sales tax on the ballot, the Aldermen are still trying to figure out how such a tax would be implemented if it were to pass.

“I doubt very seriously that the way a lot of it will be used is going to be up for negotiation,” said Crain. “The Chief will have recommendations, but this Board is going to figure out how it will be spent. I strongly disagree with the tactics of the union, and I’ve heard a lot of negative comments. It’s been disheartening and disappointing.”

Ward II Alderman Brian Hochstein brought up the fact that the City of Grandview has negotiators who help determine contracts for public safety employees.

“The public safety tax is a separate issue, but you’ve drug it into this,” said Hochstein. “You’re going to say things like we’ve failed and we don’t care about firefighters’ lives or our citizens’ lives? That’s really disappointing. If people showed up at this meeting at other times, they’d know that we’ve talked about the public safety sales tax.”

Hochstein added that he has personally brought up a potential tax numerous times. In 2014, the City of Columbia voted down a similar tax, so Hochstein said the tax has been around since before then. When it comes to a specific public safety tax, he said he is in full support of putting one on the ballot for the voters in Grandview to decide.

“However, we had already lined up other taxes for our citizens to vote on,” said Hochstein. “We’ve had two major problems in the last few years when it comes to sales taxes that feed the general fund which allows us to provide services. My concern has always been, first and foremost, making sure that my constituents were getting services from all departments and that those were funded.”

“What is more important though, their safety or other services?” asked Galvin.

“Their safety is factored into that,” said Hochstein. “I’m not saying that we can’t do better.”

Hochstein added that with Grandview voters recently passing the Capital Improvement Sales Tax this month, the Aldermen are looking toward passing the Local Use Tax. With online sales, the City of Grandview has seen significant reduction in sales tax revenues.

“We finally have the ability to recoup some of that, and that’s been our plan,” said Hochstein. “Our sales tax has been getting killed, absolutely murdered, by online sales.”

Hochstein also said that he has been a part of frank discussions with the Board regarding timing of putting the issue on a ballot. He would like to see it go to a public vote in six months, though he understands that while Local 42 is in negotiations with the City of Grandview, the timing is not convenient for the union.

“You said a keyword there, you said killed,” said Galvin. “Is that what it’s going to have to take to happen, one of these officers or one of these firefighters to get killed?”

“We can’t look at everything in one little bucket, Mr. Galvin,” said Hochstein. “I don’t look at it that way. I agree that there are things that can be improved, and I think there is a way to get there. But, the negotiating parts of public safety taxes are separate things. We have other concerns, and frankly, Local 42 attacking us (with billboards and on social media) is not productive and is not helping things.”

Ward I Alderman Damon Randolph asked what the staffing standards are for fire departments. According to Galvin, the standard number of firefighters to fight a residential fire is 15 and goes up from there with larger fires. Randolph also asked why strategic partnerships with other surrounding departments are considered to be a bad thing in regards to Local 42’s efforts to educate Grandview’s citizens on the need for additional fire employees.

“We don’t think it’s a bad thing, but the staffing would be nice if it was here,” said Galvin. “A lot of municipalities around here have a four-man staff on every rig while you just have three.”

Randolph said he has heard Local 42 say the opposite, that a strategic partnership is not a good thing.

“If you had proper staffing, you wouldn’t need as much help, which also hurts other cities too,” said Galvin. “You’re then taking resources from other cities. Now they have to find somebody to fill them spots.”

If voters in Grandview were to pass a public safety sales tax, Ward I Alderman Sandy Kessinger asked what the proposed use of the additional tax revenue would be. Galvin said that Grandview’s Fire Chief would have the ultimate say, but that Local 42 would be involved in negotiations to determine the use. He added that he would like to see the tax used for salaries and the hiring of additional firefighters.

“Grandview is not the first jurisdiction to push back or have concerns about a vague plan from the firefighters’ union,” said Kessinger.

Ward II Alderman Annette Turnbaugh added that she is also in support of a public safety sales tax ballot issue, but she feels that the personal bashing Local 42 has used to force the issue has caused a loss of confidence in the community.

“They feel that we don’t care,” said Turnbaugh. “That could not be further from the truth.” Though he was absent from the meeting, Ward II Aldermen John Maloney said he has always been supportive of having the public safety sales tax on the ballot, and if not in November, he’d like to see it be voted on in April.

Mayor Jones said that the City of Grandview has been doing the same thing it has been doing for several years and nothing in regards to public safety has changed.

“You now have the opportunity for change with the public safety sales tax,” said Galvin. “If it’s been there for a long time, how come you didn’t implement this a long time ago? The opportunity was there to have those tax dollars for public safety and it was never acted on.”


Jones said that the Board of Aldermen has approved a sequence of ballot issues to benefit the entire city, and the public safety sales tax has already been queued to move into the ballot cycle. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Area superintendents discuss back to school and district goals

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

The preparations for the new school year have been completed as area districts welcomed students back this week. District leaders from Grandview, Hickman Mills, Center and Kansas City are focusing on predetermined Board of Education priorities heading into 2017-18. Superintendents from each district presented those focus areas to members of the South Kansas City Alliance on Monday, August 16.

New Hickman Mills Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile said that the focus of the district continues to be acquiring full accreditation. Hickman Mills is a provisionally-accredited district and Cargile said that emphasis will be on the five priorities, including highly-qualified staff, attendance, being fiscally responsible, racial equity impact and increasing community and family engagement.

“We believe focusing on those five items will help us to get closer to full accreditation,” said Cargile. She added that her personal goal as the new superintendent in Hickman Mills is to be visible in the community and establishing trust and relationships with the Board of Education and district staff.

Hickman Mills is also implementing restorative practices in order to think differently about how to discipline students. Cargile said that not every offense should result in a suspension, and the district will be looking at new, innovative ways to determine punishment when rules are broken. She said that Hickman Mills has seen a decrease in out-of-school suspensions and formal hearings that have occurred over the last few years.

“I’m a proud graduate of the Hickman Mills School District,” said Cargile. “Being able to come home and serve as the superintendent of schools for a district that educated me? I attended Ingels Elementary, Smith-Hale Middle School and graduated from Ruskin High School. I never would have thought that I would come back and be superintendent, but here I am. I’m proud of that. So, when we think about commitment and successes, I’m super proud to be able to come back and talk to kids that I relate to. My goal is to inspire students and inspire staff.”

Center School District Superintendent Dr. Sharon Nibbelink spoke about the Made Smart initiative and campaign to promote student academic achievement. The goal of Made Smart is to engage parents and the community in the learning process from birth through graduation to make students college and career ready.

“The influence of parents on student success cannot be understated, and we want to support that,” said Nibbelink. The district doesn’t assume that parent guidance in education is natural, and has developed support materials to help families through every step of schooling.

Nibbelink added that the four districts presenting share a lot of the same students, and therefore all have student success at the forefront of their goals. “We celebrate the successes of all of the schools around us because we all rise together,” said Nibbelink.

Center’s strategic plan includes six goals focused on academic achievement. The district has hired a college and career coordinator to help with the focus on having students ready to enter the world after graduation.

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell is beginning his second year at the helm as students headed back to the classrooms on Monday. He said the first year provided an opportunity for him to get a feel for the district and gain some contextual understanding as to why the district is where it is.

“Unless you just recently moved to the city, there is a very dark history in the district,” said Bedell. “In addition, there is a conversation that we have to deal with in KCPS that a lot of other districts don’t have to, and that’s charter schools.”

He added that the mobility of families in his district is high due to the other 14 school districts surrounding KCPS, along with the 23 charter schools that reside in his boundaries. Preliminarily, Bedell said it looks like Kansas City Public Schools is trending in the right direction according to the district’s strategic plan. As part of that plan, the district engaged 170 secondary students to provide feedback and insight into KCPS’s blueprint for success.  

“We have to accelerate and close these gaps. We have to give these kids what they need because we don’t have a lot of time,” said Bedell. “My kids are down to 179 days remaining in the school year. We need to focus on what we are doing in the time that we have them and make sure that this plan addresses that."

Grandview Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez said that the focus on his district is around centralizing their message. He said that everyone who works in the district is a teacher, and that building positive relationships with students is a priority.

“On any given day, there is an opportunity for three or four employees to have an impact on a kid before they even step foot inside a classroom,” said Rodrequez. “We don’t want to miss those opportunities. If we don’t do this, we will never get to the academic side.”

Each staff member in the Grandview School District has gone through cultural competency training, and is working on trauma-informed care training this school year. The focus is also on making sure students in the district are successful when they leave for work or college. Rodrequez said that the district’s ACT scores were not where they needed to be, so they are working on ways to implement test-taking strategies and trainings for students to be better prepared.

“We want to make sure we can meet the needs of all of our kids,” said Rodrequez.


All four district leaders presented highlights of their students and staff, and continue to work together to better the community as a whole. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

City of Grandview looks to renew Capital Improvement Sales Tax

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

Voters in Grandview will head to the booths next Tuesday to determine whether or not to renew the city’s half-cent sales tax devoted to funding capital equipment and improvement to infrastructure and facilities. The tax was originally approved by voters in 1998 for a 10-year period, and then was renewed in November of 2007. The current Capital Improvement Sales Tax (CIST) plan is set to expire at the end of 2018.

“Back in 1998, we ran out of funding in the general fund for any capital projects, particularly ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, dump trucks and other big ticket items,” said City Administrator Cory Smith, “let alone things like City Hall repairs, computers and other facility issues that come up. We’ve got a tremendous amount of facility and equipment all over the city and we just couldn’t squeeze it into the general fund anymore.

From 1998 to 2007, several projects were completed totaling nearly $14 million. Those CIST projects were: completion of the Merrywood Bridge, storm drainage improvements, West Frontage Road improvements, police video and electronic equipment, police and fire radio system upgrades, computer-aided dispatch replacement, police vehicle replacement, public works vehicle replacement, fire trucks and ambulances, communication system improvements, 140th Street bridge, Blue Ridge traffic signals, new sidewalks and repairs, storm channel repairs, curb repairs, facility improvements and repairs, fire equipment and station improvements, and computer and technical improvements.

From 2008 to now, the city has seen CIST dollars go toward: facility improvements and repairs, computer and technology, police and fire equipment, vehicles, technology and facilities, street construction projects, storm drainage improvements, sidewalk and curb construction and repair and various vehicle replacements.

To date, nearly $3 million of the 2008 CIST has been devoted to police equipment, vehicles, technology and facilities, while $2.6 million has gone to fire equipment, vehicles, technology and facilities.

“This year, the general fund is at least 80 percent personal services,” said Smith. “The rest is just support costs, contractual supplies, uniforms and all those things.”

On Tuesday, August 8, voters will decide on the renewal of the CIST, with a projected $15 million in revenue from the half-cent sales. That projection includes a two-percent annual growth in sales tax revenues as well as interest income and the trade or sale of miscellaneous vehicles and equipment that the city owns.

City of Grandview’s administration has put forth a CIST renewal plan with $15 million in expenditures for the next 10 years. 46 percent of the renewal plan, totaling nearly $6 million, is public safety improvements, including body worn cameras for police officers, tactical equipment, replacement of cars and motorcycles, mobile data terminals, radio equipment, ambulance and fire truck replacement, mobile radios, cots and other ambulance equipment and firefighter safety gear.

Also included in the CIST renewal plan are: a new roof, various repairs and HVAC replacement at City Hall, a new roof at the public works facility, fire station improvements, computer and technology improvements, replacement of vehicles in public works and community development, the replacement of the Kansas City Southern Railroad overpass at Blue Ridge and new equipment and furnishings at The View community center.

“We have received money from the Federal Railway Administration through a grant that is good for the next two or three years,” said Smith. “The railroad would potentially cover about 25 percent of the project. It’s a $7 million project.”

Ultimately, it is up to Grandview voters to decide whether or not the project list gets completed in the next ten years. The specific ballot language reads: Shall the City of Grandview, Missouri reimpose a sales tax of one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) for the purpose of funding capital improvements, which may include the retirement of debt under previously authorized bonded indebtedness, for a period of ten (10) years commencing January 1, 2019, and ending December 31, 2028?


The City of Grandview has developed a website with more information. Voters can go to www.buildingtomorrowscommunity.com  to find out more. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fire brewing among union, city officials

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

A war of words continues with Grandview elected officials and fire union leaders, with differing messages regarding pay and contract terms.

Even though it was a packed house at the Grandview Board of Aldermen meeting last week, the crowd wasn’t there to listen to the approval of ordinances or witness oaths being given to newly-appointed commissioners. Members of the local fire union, wearing red shirts in solidarity, were there to listen to supporters during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Tim Dupin, a former Grandview Fire employee in 1996 and currently the secretary and treasurer for the International Association of Firefighters Local 42 union, addressed the Mayor and Board of Aldermen as a representative of those who work for the Grandview Fire Department.

“Your firefighters are in a unique situation. They don’t have enough people to do the job,” said Dupin. “I left here, first and foremost, for my safety. You have the same amount of firefighters now that you had in 1996.”

He added that wages and benefits of the firemen, while not where they should be, are secondary to the safety concerns of Local 42. According to Dupin, the Grandview Fire Department calls for mutual aid of surrounding departments daily.

“We’re not out here asking you to supply enough firefighters to fight fires in the industrial complexes you have,” said Dupin. “We’re not asking you to have enough to fight an apartment building here. We’re asking you to get enough firefighters to fight a house fire.”

Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones stated that 46 percent of the upcoming Capital Improvement Sales Tax is to ensure that both police and fire personnel have the needed equipment to safely fulfill their respective responsibilities in the future. He added that the Board of Aldermen has also discussed other tax issues, including the public safety sales tax and the local use tax, and they plan to consider both of those in the coming months or year. 

“During public comment at last week’s regular session, a number of people gave the impression that the police and fire departments were not trained and equipped to safely perform their duties,” said Jones. “This is not true now nor has it been true in the past. The Grandview residents that attended the Citizens Academy were shocked to hear such misleading and unverified comments last Tuesday.”

Dupin added that the National Fire Protection Agency standards are to have 15 firefighters to safely fight a fire, while Grandview has only 10-12 on duty at any given time.

“Do your job. Put it on the ballot,” said Dupin. “You want to shut me up and stop the social media posts? Do your job and stop kicking the can down the road. Support your men and women. Put their safety first. Put the safety of your citizens first and do your job of protecting Grandview. You’re not doing it right now.”

According to Jones, salaries are negotiated and evaluated with Local 42 on a regular basis, including overtime, sick leave, vacation and career development.

“We also realize that 85 percent of Fire Department calls are for EMS services, and they typically have about 20 structural fires a year,” Jones added. “Currently, we have significant reinforcements from Kansas City under our new EMD dispatching agreement.”

Kristina D’Agostino from Independence, whose husband has worked as a Grandview firefighter for the past 12 years, also addressed the elected officials during public comments. She claimed that the Grandview Fire Department is understaffed and underpaid. She also stated that some of the firemen in the department work upwards of 96 hour shifts due to lack of manpower.

“I am very concerned that nobody takes the time to address the safety of the fire department,” said D’Agostino. “These guys are exhausted. They need resources. They need safety. They need help.”

Grandview resident and president of the Belvidere Neighborhood Watch Pam Miller spoke of the vital role that the firefighters and police have in the community. She requested that the aldermen put on a future ballot to let Grandview voters decide on a one-percent tax increase for public safety.

“We all have a voice,” said Miller. “We have to make sure that we have public safety. We need more police. Grandview is a great place; we just need to invest more.”

Michael and JoLynn Lane, who are Grandview business owners, also urged the Grandview Board of Aldermen to consider an upcoming ballot issue to increase funding for public safety training and personnel.

“We have resources, they’re just not being allocated to the right spot,” said Michael Lane. “We need personnel. We need public safety. We need our fire department. Let the people speak.”


The City of Grandview is currently negotiating a new three-year agreement with Local 42 and plans to allow the negotiations to proceed to its conclusion this fall.