Judge hears arguments on proposed streetcar taxing district

05/15/2014 2:33 PM

05/15/2014 2:33 PM

Lawyers for supporters and opponents of Kansas City’s streetcars sparred Tuesday at a hearing to determine the legality of a new taxing district that could help fund extensions to the downtown starter route.

Attorney Doug Stone, speaking on behalf of the City Council, told Jackson County Circuit Judge Marco Roldan that the proposed taxing district meets all Missouri law requirements and should be declared legal.

Stone said such a ruling would allow the proposal to move from the courtroom to the court of public opinion — elections later this year where the public would get to decide whether to approve the district and new taxes within it. Those taxes would pay the local portion of about eight more miles of streetcar routes, east along Independence Avenue and Linwood Boulevard and south on Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The proposed district, south of the Missouri River, would extend from State Line east to Interstate 435 and south to 51st Street between State Line and the Paseo, then along Gregory Boulevard from the Paseo to I-435. Voters living within those boundaries would be asked to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase. The district also would have special assessments for properties closest to the expanded streetcar lines. The tax increases would not take effect until a huge federal matching grant is in place.

Stone argued that the proposed taxes do not pose a disproportionate burden on anyone and are not unjust or unreasonable. Case law defines those terms very narrowly, he said.

“They don’t mean, ‘I don’t like it. I don’t want to pay it,’ ” he said.

But attorney Sherry DeJanes, representing streetcar opponents, countered that the proposed taxes are oppressive and worrisome and should be found to pose an undue burden on low-income residents. She said they also could place businesses in the district at a competitive disadvantage.

“It is unreasonable to go forward with this proposal,” she said. “We have buses that adequately serve the community.”

DeJanes pointed out that even with the local funding and a generous federal matching grant, the extensions are projected to be at least $30 million short of funds.

But Dave Vozzolo, head of HDR Engineering’s streetcar practice, testified that projects in other cities have faced that kind of gap at this point in the planning and it can be dealt with as more detailed engineering occurs.

Testimony is scheduled to continue April 24. Roldan is expected to rule sometime after that on whether the elections can occur.

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