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KC voters overwhelmingly renew 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements

Kansas City voters overwhelmingly agreed Tuesday to renew a 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements, including a portion of the estimated $200 million needed to replace the aging Buck O'Neil Bridge.

The ballot question garnered better than a 75 percent majority in unofficial returns across the city, including parts of Clay and Platte counties. It was the biggest ticket item on a busy municipal election day, when voters in more than 70 Missouri cities, townships and villages approved other tax increases, selected mayors and council members and filled school board seats..

The 1-cent tax, on the books since 1983, will generate an estimated $70 million a year, split three ways. Thirty-five percent is divided among the six councilmanic districts for neighborhood projects recommended by a citizen panel, the Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC). Twenty-five percent is set aside for street resurfacing and repair.

The other 40 percent is traditionally earmarked for maintenance of public buildings and other infrastructure. But the city added specific ballot language stating that it would use these funds for its share of the cost to replace the 62-year-old O'Neil Bridge, which carries about 44,000 vehicles a day across the Missouri River and is in poor condition.

Officials plan to use to about $5 million a year toward what could be a $60 million price tag. The state of Missouri has committed $100 million and other local governments in the region have pledged $40 million.

Mayor Sly James, celebrating Tuesday at the Union Station watch party, said in a statement: "Once again, Kansas Citians have chosen to invest in the future of this great city by ensuring critical infrastructure projects will be completed and a new Buck O'Neil bridge will be built. I’m so proud of the strides we’ve made and look forward to continuing our progress together."

The results showed that while voters may be leery of some taxes, they love those that pay for their bridges, streets and sidewalks.

The ballot question won overwhelmingly throughout the area. It captured 81.5 percent of the 17,279 votes cast in the city of Kansas City. Just over 77 percent of Platte County voters approved, out of 2,594 ballots cast. In Clay County, nearly 74 percent said yes out of 7,253 ballots cast.

Voters were comfortable enough with the sales tax to approve an unusually long 20-year renewal. City officials said they asked for the lengthy extension so that the levy could run concurrently with the 20-year, $800 million general obligation bond package approved in April 2017.

If all works as planned, it means that the penny will be a reliable source of funding for maintaining projects built with bond money.

Voters were a little choosier about some other proposed taxes. Independence and Blue Springs voted down a proposed sales tax on out-of-state purchases made on line. The so-called "local use" tax was intended to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers who must charge an established sales tax.

Liberty and Lake Waukomis said yes to local use taxes.

By and large, Missouri residents were willing to invest in bread-and-butter services provided by local government. Grandview, Oakwood and Lake Waukomis approved new sales or property taxes for fire and ambulance services. Liberty and Grain Valley agreed to borrow money for new school facilities

Kearney and Smithville voted to issue bonds for streets, roads and sidewalks. Kearney will borrow up to $24.3 million and Smithville up to $5.6 million. Smithville and Northmoor approved higher property and sales taxes to cover increasing general costs of government. Claycomo said no.

Sixteen municipalites elected mayors, most of them incumbents. Half of them ran unopposed, including Ellen Weir of Independence.

Eleven school districts, including Hickman Mills, Center, Lee's Summit and Blue Springs filled school board seats. Voters also elected members of the Board of Trustees of the Junior College District of Metropolitan Kansas City.

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