Kansas City Mayor Sly James argued Monday night that it’s finally time to confront the city’s colossal infrastructure problems, despite the $800 million price tag and the property tax increase needed to pay for it.
“It is a lot of money, but it is a lot of city,” James told a crowd of more than 100 people at a Brookside-area town-hall meeting. He fielded questions about the three ballot questions that the City Council has agreed to put before voters April 4.
He said it’s politically easier to kick the can down the road, but this council wants to solve problems.
“If we don’t do the work, it’s not going to get better,” James said.
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After months of debate, the City Council decided unanimously on Jan. 19 to seek voter approval to borrow and invest $800 million over the next 20 years. The proposal takes the form of three questions on the April 4 ballot requesting:
▪ Up to $600 million for streets, bridges and sidewalks. Most of that, $450 million, would be spent on roads and bridges, with the rest for a new sidewalk improvement program.
▪ Up to $150 million for flood control. This would be the city matching funds for more than $500 million in federal dollars already authorized by Congress.
Each question needs 57.1 percent voter approval to pass. Whichever questions get sufficient votes will be implemented.
If all three questions pass, finance officials plan to issue about $40 million in bonds each year for 20 years. The bonds issued in the final year would not be paid off until the 2050s. The total package would require a tax increase.
For the owner of a $140,000 home and a $15,000 car, the average incremental increase would be about $8 each year. But Finance Director Randy Landes clarified that the tax increase would likely be steeper than $8 per year in the first year and first few years before flattening out in the middle years. The annual tax bump might even decline in latter years as other debt is paid off, but the cumulative total would reach an annual $160 increase by the end of the 20 years.
A nonbinding city resolution spells out how the money might be spent, although the City Council has said it wants some flexibility to deal with infrastructure emergencies as they occur.