Questions about sidewalks, a proposed new animal shelter, and general skepticism about city government permeated Kansas City’s forum Thursday night on its infrastructure bond proposal.
“There’s a general angst about accountability that shows up in these questions,” said Linda Vogel Smith, president of the Kansas City League of Women Voters, which sponsored the forum along with Northland Neighborhoods Inc. Vogel Smith posed questions handed in from the audience of nearly 100 people.
Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte sought to reassure the crowd that, if voters approve $800 million in bonds for infrastructure at the April 4 election, the money will only be spent for basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, sidewalks, flood control, and city buildings.
“Not a dime of this money can be spent on the airport,” Schulte said.
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James said the city would produce an annual “report card” detailing how the money had been spent in the previous year, plus the funding plan for the next year.
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.
▪ Up to $50 million for public buildings, including about $14 million for a new animal shelter and up to $35 million for upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The bonds would require a property tax increase to pay off the debt service.
Each question needs 57.1 percent voter approval to pass. Whichever questions get sufficient votes would be implemented.
Schulte said if the animal shelter is approved, it would be one of the first projects tackled, in the first or second year of the program.
Some people who have paid for their own sidewalks questioned why their taxes should now go for other people’s sidewalks. James and Schulte argued sidewalks are a community benefit and are needed to help kids walk to school safely and to enhance struggling neighborhoods.
“That’s the nature of living in a city,” James responded. “Everybody contributes to the pot.”