Independence needs a frank discussion of resources and services

Brent Schondelmeyer
Guest column

During a recent Independence City Council meeting, it was suggested the city needed more police officers and a new fire station primarily because of recent population growth, particularly in southeast Independence. 

Independence has actually experienced little population growth over the past 50 years, based on U.S. Census data. 

Our population was 111,630 in 1970 and now is 116,672 in 2019 – a growth of just 5,042 over a 50-year period or basically 100 persons per year. Our population growth has been minimal. 

Contrast that to the 1970-2019 growth of neighboring communities: 

• Lee’s Summit – 83,127 increase; 50-year average increase of 1,662 persons per year. (2019 population 99,357.) 

• Blue Springs – 49,050 increase; 50-year average increase of 981 persons per year. (2019 population 55,829.) 

• Grain Valley – 13,817 increase; 50-year average increase of 276 persons per year. (2019 population 14,526.) 

The 50-year grown in just these three communities – Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Grain Valley – has been 145,994 exceeding the Independence’s total population. 

Raytown and Sugar Creek have actually experienced significant population losses over the past five decades. 

• Raytown –  4,641 decrease, 50-year average decrease of 93 persons per year. (2019 population 28,991.) 

• Sugar Creek – 1,495 decrease, 50-year average decrease of 30 persons per year. (2019 population 3,260.) 

Over the past 50 years, Independence has seen significant changes in demographics (more diversity) and socio-economic status (higher poverty) and seen little new investment in housing (rental or homes). 

So why has Independence not grown? 

There was rapid growth between 1950 and 1970 when we grew from 36,963 to 111,630 – a period that basically created modern-day Independence expanding the city to 78 square miles through annexation and rapid residential and retail development. 

But why has growth essentially flat-lined the past 50 years? 

We are an inner-ring suburb like Raytown and Sugar Creek, which both lost population.  

Independence has lots land, has good schools, owns electric and water utilities and has ready access to interstate highways. We have an extraordinary history, many civic assets and relatively strong retail development, particularly in southeast Independence. 

Thoughtful, robust, frank conversations are needed. Many reasons can be offered and there will be honest disagreements. 

But actual population numbers should not be in dispute. 

So do we have pressing needs for additional city services? 

More police, definitely. We have been understaffed for decades. 

Finally we have the funds to hire officers thanks to voter approval of Proposition P (pets and police). But recruiting law enforcement officers is a challenge everywhere. 

A brand new fire station?  

Perhaps not, but relocating existing fire services might make sense given firefighters’ role as first responders providing emergency medical care. 

But population growth, hardly. 

We are not a growing community. 

We are now the state’s fifth largest city as Columbia (population 124,769) vaulted past Independence in the last 10 years. 

Perhaps a more appropriate explanation would be this:  

We do not have the city services current residents deserve or which would make us more attractive community to others considering where to live and work. 

Brent Schondelmeyer lives in Independence.