The Kansas City Council failed to reach a consensus Thursday on a way to fund the city’s huge infrastructure needs, as two rival plans emerged to put before voters in April.
That means that, after months of debate, the council must hold another special meeting to reach an eleventh-hour agreement next week. It must approve ballot language by next Thursday to meet the April election deadline.
It’s a scramble over rival $800 million ballot plans, and a sign of ongoing lack of unity as the council confronts one of its signature priorities for 2017 — trying to address the city’s huge backlog of roads, bridge, sidewalk, flood control and building needs.
“I’m betting a lot of capital on this. This is important,” Mayor Sly James said after the chances for agreement fizzled at Thursday’s joint finance and infrastructure committee meeting.
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James has championed one of the two competing funding approaches. He said bond counsel from Gilmore & Bell have endorsed his approach, because it includes similar and rationally related infrastructure categories. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner said he thought the mayor’s plan has more than the seven-vote majority needed on the council to pass. But key council members Jolie Justus and Jermaine Reed were absent Thursday, so the measure couldn’t get out of committee to proceed to a full council vote.
Meanwhile, Councilman Quinton Lucas put forth an alternate plan that he thought better addressed crucial neighborhood needs. He said he believes his plan also has council support.
The plan supported by Mayor James includes:
▪ Question 1 for $600 million for roads, bridges and sidewalks.
▪ Question 2 for $150 million for flood control, providing the local money needed to match more than $500 million in potential federal flood control projects included in a recent Congressional authorization.
▪ Question 3 for $50 million for buildings. This would include $14 million for a new animal shelter that would also get millions in private funding. It would also include about $35 million to meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards on public buildings. The city faces a federal ADA consent decree that could cost more than $100 million, but this bond package would fund the most pressing project list.
The plan put forth by Lucas calls for:
▪ $550 million for streets, bridges and adjacent sidewalk repairs.
▪ $25 million for the animal shelter plus other animal control infrastructure.
▪ $225 million for flood control, plus neighborhood sidewalks to comply with ADA requirements.
Lucas said he thinks many of the city’s ADA building requirements could be funded in another way besides the bonds. But James countered this his approach has the more logically connected infrastructure categories that bond lawyers will insist on before the city can sell the bonds.
No matter what the city does, it may be a hard sell with voters, because these bonds would require a modest property tax increase.
Under Missouri law, general obligation bond questions on the April ballot will require 57.1 percent supermajority approval. Recent polling, James said, showed 62 percent approval for roads and sidewalks, 65 percent for flood control and 64 percent for the animal shelter and other buildings. That’s outside the margin of error, but still a tight potential window for success.