Yael T. Abouhalkah

Get focused on these 10 priorities for the Kansas City area

Updated: 2013-11-07T01:14:49Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Focus on the right priorities, and the Kansas City metropolitan area will gain residents, jobs and a growing reputation as a great place to play, too.

Here are 10 issues that deserve attention and action in the coming months.

• Help push the Cerner Corp. and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research to complete developments in south Kansas City.

The $4 billion-plus planned Cerner campus on the site of the now-leveled Bannister Mall is the single most important economic development project in this region. It could transform that entire part of the city, create thousands of jobs and help revitalize nearby neighborhoods. And a new Stowers facility could bring more basic scientific research to the area.

• Approve local control of the Kansas City Police Department.

That should be the final recommendation next Monday of a citizens task force. It’s an anachronism that a non-elected, part-time board mostly appointed by a governor is in charge of a $220 million city agency — now the only arrangement of its kind in the country. The City Council and Mayor Sly James should endorse this change and work with the General Assembly to make it happen in 2014.

• Try again to pass a sales tax to fund better parks in Blue Springs.

City officials there are steaming after a half-cent sales tax was rejected 55-45 percent on Tuesday in the same election that a half-cent research sales tax was steamrolled 84-16 percent in Jackson County. The city had a responsible plan for the parks upgrades, but they got caught up in the anti-tax vote after the surprise insertion of the research tax on the ballot by the County Legislature.

• Decide whether to aggressively pursue commuter rail in Jackson County.

County Executive Mike Sanders needs to determine whether it’s possible to work out a reasonable proposal to build this system. The balky local railroad companies aren’t helping the cause, and may make it fall apart completely. Also, the possible one-cent sales tax increase to pay for commuter rail sure looks too rich with the loss of the half-cent research sales tax on Tuesday.

• Investigate where the next streetcar lines should go.

Officials this week released a detailed proposal that deserves further study. It will cost money; good planning always does. When the first two streetcar miles open in 2015 in downtown, residents should know where the expansion will go, why it’s headed that way and how much it could cost.

• Approve the change to later elections for the Kansas City Council, but reject the change in council configuration.

A citizens group got it right when it recommended moving election dates out of the February/March lineup and into a more voter-friendly time of April/June. But the panel went too far when it suggested killing the current system of six at-large council seats and six in-district seats. The proposed 12-0 in-district plan would create destructive political turmoil.

And here, in less detail, are some other priorities challenging area residents:

• Johnson County is struggling more than usual to attract new jobs, which is a drag on the regional economy.

• Clay County still has dysfunctional political leadership after voters defeated needed governance changes on Tuesday.

• Leading suburbs such as Olathe and Lee’s Summit are getting older and must find ways to finance well-maintained streets and top-rated school districts.

• Many area school districts are looking at property tax levy elections in 2014 to keep pace with growth.

The eternal challenge: It’s going to take smart leadership to keep this region moving forward.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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