Voters living in part of Kansas City south of the Missouri River go to the polls Aug. 5 for an unusual election that could help determine whether streetcars expand beyond downtown.
Unlike the downtown project, which a few hundred voters approved in 2012, this election covers 52 square miles and 67,000 registered voters south of the Missouri River.
The proposed district would generally extend from the state line east to Interstate 435, from the Missouri River south to the vicinity of the Country Club Plaza, then south to Gregory Boulevard between the Paseo and I-435. Voters living within those boundaries will see the issue as Question A on their August ballots.
At stake is a plan to expand the streetcar about eight miles:
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On Main Street south of downtown to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
East on Linwood Boulevard to Prospect Avenue,
East on Independence Avenue to Benton Boulevard.
The plan also calls for a MAX rapid bus route on Prospect Avenue to 75th Street.
If the district is approved, voters would decide in November on specific tax increases to pay the local share of the cost. Planners anticipate a maximum 1-cent sales tax increase for up to 30 years, which would boost the base sales tax rate within the district from 8.35 cents to 9.35 cents.
The plan also contemplates special property assessments within about a third of a mile of the streetcar extensions. The average cost on affected single-family homes would be $95 per year.
The special assessment on residential property would be $66.50 per year for every $50,000 of market value as determined by Jackson County. The special assessment for commercial property would be $1,536 per year for every $1 million of market value, as determined by Jackson County.
The ballot language promises the existing downtown streetcar district would be dissolved into the new district, so downtowners would not face double taxation. And the bigger district’s tax increases would not take effect until a federal grant or other outside funds materialize to cover at least half the project’s cost.
The debate is shaping up to be a contest between younger voters versus seniors, downtown and midtown versus the East Side, and people who want to seize the moment versus those who say the downtown streetcar should prove itself first.
Mayor Sly James is all in for expansion.
“I believe in it that much,” he said.
The mayor argues it’s essential for Kansas City to finally join every other major city by building a significant rail project. He said now is the time because the city has a better chance of winning a huge matching federal grant while Barack Obama is president.
Key endorsements include neighborhood groups downtown and along Independence Avenue as well as the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council.
But the project also faces significant opposition.
“It’s a bad plan,” said Sherry DeJanes, an attorney leading an anti-streetcar group called SmartKC.
She said the project’s estimated $515 million cost is exorbitant and the sales tax increase is too big a burden on poor people. Plus, DeJanes noted, buses are far cheaper and have more potential to get people to jobs.
Other opponents include the African-American political club Freedom Inc. and longtime mortgage banker James B. Nutter Sr., who has contributed $50,000 to SmartKC’s campaign.