A plan to quadruple stormwater charges on Kansas City homeowners and businesses is a tax increase that’s not yet ready for prime time. In short, the current proposal should not be rushed to voters.
The tax helps pay to clean and repair catch basins, sweep streets, pick up leaves and brush, and collect hazardous waste. The tax generates about $12 million a year; the city proposal over the next decade could ratchet that up to $48 million annually.
The average homeowner charge would rise in phases over 10 years from $2.50 to $10 a month, while average commercial rates would go from $44 to $176 a month.
“There is no doubt we desperately need the funding,” council member Jan Marcason said Wednesday.
City Manager Troy Schulte said the city spends more than it takes in from the tax on services designed to let stormwater flow freely into unclogged catch basins. But that’s partly because city officials in recent years chose to have the fee cover some services that had been paid for out of general funds.
Even a few City Council members this week wondered why they were discussing the possibility of placing the tax on the June 23 ballot. No one thinks it has much chance of passing, a few members indicated during a meeting with Mayor Sly James. And it would take a huge education campaign to convince voters to approve the higher tax.
James and Marcason said elected officials should at least try to see whether the council could vote by the April 9 deadline to put it before voters in June.
But Kansas Citians already are burdened with soaring sewer and water charges. The average monthly sewer cost for homeowners has doubled in the last six years, while water charges have gone up 50 percent.
The third part of the monthly water bill is the stormwater tax.
Per voter approval many years ago, the tax is capped at 50 cents a month for every 500 square feet of runoff surface area on a piece of property. That’s mostly roofs and driveways for homeowners. These “impervious” surfaces essentially force more stormwater to enter the city’s drainage system, rather than being absorbed by the ground.
As written, the current ordinance would let the council set the tax at whatever level it wanted. That’s a nonstarter; some kind of limit needs to be in place.
Unless the city can write much better ballot language and quickly develop a convincing case for the stormwater tax increase, it should be shelved for now.