The Kansas City Council officially kicked off deliberations Thursday about an $800 million infrastructure bond package to send to voters next year.
The council introduced an ordinance calling for an election April 4, when voters will be asked to authorize modest property tax increases to help address a huge backlog of road, sidewalk, flood control and other projects.
“Our infrastructure needs are immense,” City Manager Troy Schulte said in outlining the plan.
If voters approve, the city would issue the $800 million in $40 million chunks annually for 20 years. The property tax increase required to pay off the bonds would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $6 more per year cumulatively, or $120 more at the end of 20 years.
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April is the most advantageous time for a bond authorization because it would require 57 percent approval, which polling shows is achievable. Any election later next year would require nearly 67 percent approval.
Schulte said he wants to address the city’s most critical needs. He envisions spending about $400 million over 20 years on road improvements, perhaps $200 million on sidewalk repairs, and about $200 million on flood control, bridges and buildings such as a new animal shelter to replace the existing antiquated facility.
He asked the council for flexibility and said he doesn’t want to specify particular dollar amounts or exact projects.
But Councilman Dan Fowler told Schulte voters will need some specifics.
“I don’t think we can pass a tax increase, but I think we can sell a product,” Fowler said, noting that the measure could pass if voters in all parts of city think they’re getting worthwhile projects.
Schulte said he’s happy to speak to neighborhoods and other groups, to get public feedback on the proposal. The council must adopt ballot language by Jan. 19 to qualify for the April ballot.
Thursday afternoon’s council discussion followed a breakfast meeting where Mayor Sly James, seven other council members and Schulte also discussed the proposal with members of the Heavy Constructors Association, which may be asked to contribute to the election campaign.
James told the group that polling shows 61 percent approval for the idea, but that’s before any opposition campaign. Since it needs 57 percent to pass, James acknowledged, “This is going to be tight.”
He also pointed out that the ballot will also have the 1-cent capital improvements sales tax renewal, plus a petition initiative for a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase for East Side infrastructure, and possibly a separate question to raise money for a fresh and saltwater aquarium at the zoo.
The mayor predicted that if the April ballot has four tax measures, “at least two will fail.”
Bill Clarkson Jr. of Clarkson Construction asked Schulte and the council why the proposal includes tens of millions of dollars for sidewalks. He said that for the Heavies to get behind this campaign, they want a big emphasis on roads, and the sidewalk component “is not very sexy to us.”
James responded that roads will be a top priority, but he said sidewalk repairs also rank high on every citizen satisfaction survey, and could build support among neighborhoods and voters for the entire bond package.
Other contractors questioned why the city should pay for sidewalk repairs now, when many residents, especially west of Troost, have already assessed themselves to fix their sidewalks. Schulte explained that in many neighborhoods east of Troost, it’s unrealistic for a homeowner to pay $8,000 for a sidewalk on a home that may be worth less than $50,000. He also said it’s a way for the city to improve property values in impoverished neighborhoods.
Ed DeSoignie, executive director of the Heavy Constructors, wondered about having so many infrastructure priorities in the proposal.
“It appears you’re trying to spread the peanut butter as far as you can,” he said.
James said the council is trying to address as many infrastructure problems across a huge geographic area, adding, “We have limited funds, and a big piece of bread.”