Major change to Kansas City elections is among questions on April 8 ballot

03/23/2014 11:46 PM

03/23/2014 11:46 PM

Kansas City mayoral and council candidates and voters, too, have gotten used to braving frigid conditions every four years, with the city primary in February and the general election in March.

But city officials hope voters will soon approve a charter change that would move the city’s election season to warmer months. If voters approve Question 3 on Kansas City’s April 8 ballot, the City Council primary would be in April 2015 and the general election in June 2015. The winners would take office Aug. 1, 2015.

“We think people might be more inclined to go out and vote in June than they are in March,” said Matt Dameron, who co-chaired a charter review commission that spent months reviewing possible charter changes.

In addition to improving voter turnout, the change should also save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars because Kansas City would hold its primary on the same April day as various school districts. The city would share the election costs with those districts instead of having its own election and shouldering the cost alone.

Question 3, altering the City Council’s campaign season, is one of five city ballot questions and three charter-related questions in this low-key election. No organized opposition to the city’s ballot measures has surfaced.

Question 4 would require the city to have a five-year financial plan, updated annually, and compel the city to set aside at least 1 percent of the general fund in its contingent appropriation. City Manager Troy Schulte said those charter measures would be a plus with municipal credit rating agencies.

Question 5 has generated the most questions from the public. It would modify the number of required city departments from nine to six: finance, fire, health, human resources, law and parks. Other required functions, but not necessarily departments, would be aviation, contracting, neighborhoods, public infrastructure and water services.

(The police department is not named in the current charter or the proposed one because, although funded primarily by the city, it is a state agency.)

Schulte said there is no plan to eliminate any department, but this charter change would give future councils and city managers more flexibility to reorganize if it made sense.

Question 1 on the April 8 ballot seeks voter approval to issue up to $500 million in revenue bonds to continue modernizing the city’s water mains and other water infrastructure. This follows overwhelming voter support in 2012 to issue up to $500 million in bonds for the sewer system.

The city would issue about $50 million per year for 10 years to fix 28 miles of water mains and other drinking water assets annually.

The water bonds would be paid back with already-scheduled water rate increases. While sewer rates will continue double-digit increases for at least seven more years, water rates will increase 10 percent this year, then taper off to 2 percent to 3 percent increases annually in 2015. The average residential water/sewer charge is approaching $84 per month.

City officials said it makes sense to borrow money for water upgrades while interest rates are historically low. If voters reject this borrowing, water rates would go up much faster to raise the cash for the needed improvements.

In another April 8 ballot measure, Question 2 seeks voter approval to charge Kansas City hotels and motels an annual permit fee. The money would be used to inspect and clean up motels where sanitary conditions threaten public safety.

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