JoCo approves $15M Panasonic infrastructure investment

OLATHE, Kan. -Johnson County, Kansas will contribute $15 million to support infrastructure improvements in De Soto related to the creation of an electric vehicle battery plant.

Earlier this month Panasonic announced it would make one A $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Thursday Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted 5-2 to allocate $ 7.5 million towards the construction of a new fire station to serve the development and the surrounding area. Commissioners Michael Ashcraft and Charlotte O’Hara voted against funding the project.

Ashcraft said he was not comfortable supporting the commitment to the fire station, because he felt the funds should be considered if the City of De Soto approved the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for the project.

“This should be part of the consideration for approval from TIF and acceptance from TIF and funding from TIF,” said Ashcraft.

Shortly after Panasonic’s announcement to create a battery factory, the City Council of De Soto approved two project plans 5,877 hectares of TIF district in the former property of the ammunition factory. The first 300-acre project will house a Panasonic battery plant and is expected to generate about $202.6 million in revenue over the 20-year life of the TIF.

The second project covers approximately 296 acres directly south of the plant. The project is expected to generate approximately $200 million in revenue over the life of the TIF.

In February, it was BOCC approved the terms of the new agreement for the construction of the former ammunition factory. According to the agreement, developer Sunflower Redevelopment LLC (SRL), will donate approximately five acres of land on the Sunflower property to the Northwest Consolidated Fire District to create a new fire station.

The County will now allocate $7.5 million from the Countywide Support Fund (CSF) to support the construction of a new fire station capable of serving the lithium battery plant and additional residential growth expected in the area.

The board also voted 6-1 to allocate $7.5 million for road improvements to support new development with only Commissioner O’Hara voting against the investment.

KDOT has committed $26 million in road improvements to support the new development. Economic development funds used by the state require a local match of 25%. Under the agreement with KDOT, the county will provide $6.5 million in matching funds for the project as well as a $1 million contingency fund.

“It may require a four-lane urban street improvement. It will extend from K-10 south to 103rd Street and all the way to Lexington,” Public Works Director Brian Pietig said.

“The safety of those streets is a threat to the people who live here and this is a way we can get out in front of them,” said Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand.

Jay Leipzig, director of planning, housing and community development, said as part of the initial transportation plan the City of De Soto will contribute $2.2 million for road improvements. The city will also commit about $5.5 million in TIF revenue toward the project.

The city of De Soto has committed to making it rough $40 million in infrastructure improvements during the next two years to support new development.

Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson said the county contribution will come from the Countywide Support Fund (CSF). According to county records, CSF is a fund allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to address lost revenue caused by the pandemic.

“There are specific requirements about how we use these funds, so we have to be very careful about our terminology. They are not ARPA dollars now. They [the dollars] have lost their identity. They have been claimed as a result of our lost revenue and withdrawn. So now, they are part of our general fund reserve and can be used as this body.[the BOCC] determined without further federal restrictions.”

O’Hara said he’s not in favor of putting more money into the project, because while the plant is expected to create 4,000 new jobs, Panasonic isn’t necessarily creating that many jobs.

“There are no guarantees. This is an important component of many economic development packages, how many jobs are going to be created and how much the minimum wage is going to be. I think that this is too premature,” O’Hara said.

Before the general election, some residents asked the council to postpone the decision on the allocation of money for infrastructure improvements.

“This is not ready for a decision. It seems like there are too many unknowns and at least this should be included until you have answers to all the questions that everyone is asking,” said Phil Bauer.

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