A Kansas City Council joint finance and infrastructure committee unanimously endorsed a last-minute compromise Thursday morning on a huge infrastructure bond proposal. The measure goes to the full council Thursday afternoon, the deadline to reach the April ballot.
The council is trying to craft a plan that can win voter approval to borrow $800 million over the next 20 years to address the city’s huge infrastructure needs. Various disagreements have led to furious behind-the-scenes negotiations in the past week. The measure needs nine of 13 votes Thursday afternoon to advance for a final vote.
At one point in Thursday morning’s meeting, Mayor Sly James complained that the bar for compromise kept moving. He said he felt he was having to play a “whack a mole” game to reach a consensus with the council, and he wanted council members to put aside their parochial concerns to vote what was best for the city.
After the mayor spoke, consensus did gel around a revised ordinance and a companion resolution that provided more specifics on how the money would be spent.
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The version for the $800 million general obligation bond spending that emerged from committee includes:
▪ $600 million for streets, bridges and sidewalks. A companion resolution clarifies that a maximum of $150 million would be spent on sidewalks, leaving $450 million for roads and bridges.
▪ $150 million for flood control.
▪ $50 million for public buildings, including but not limited to a new animal shelter to replace a woefully outdated facility.
The biggest debate was over sidewalks, as council members debated the right level of funding and whether a huge investment in sidewalks is the best way to spend infrastructure money.
Councilman Lee Barnes suggested reducing sidewalk spending to $120 million — about $6 million per year for 20 years, or $1 million per year per council district.
But other council members said that wasn’t enough money.
Councilman Kevin McManus said more money for sidewalks would be crucial to voter support in district, south Kansas City.
“We’ve got to get something done,” McManus said, urging colleagues to support more money for sidewalks and move a proposal forward that can win voter approval in April.
Councilman Scott Wagner, who has studied the city’s crumbling sidewalk problems for several years, also said $120 million wasn’t sufficient. He had wanted $200 million but was willing to accept a compromise of $150 million but not less than that. Many neighborhood leaders have said they want an emphasis on sidewalks.
James also said he wouldn’t support anything less than $150 million for sidewalks, and that appeared to turn the tide on the debate.
A council resolution spells out in much greater detail than the ordinance ballot language how the money might be spent on all the categories. It includes an Exhibit A that lists 65 major roadway improvements throughout the city, including Holmes Road in south Kansas City; North Brighton in the Northland; Blue River Road landslide issues; 63rd Street; Rockhill Road, Wornall Road reconstruction and Prospect Avenue for the Prospect MAX rapid bus system.
Councilwoman Katheryn Shields argued the $800 million should be spent primarily on existing infrastructure, not on a lot of new projects, because there are plenty of crucial needs on what’s already built. That emphasis on existing infrastructure is included in the resolution language.