Some members of light-rail task force favor smaller tax, earlier vote

Some members of the task force officially designated to recommend a light-rail plan for Kansas City wonder whether the plan should involve a smaller tax and a quicker vote.

That is especially true, some said, after the City Council repealed the Clay Chastain plan. The council is now committed to a light-rail vote by November 2008, although some council members and residents have pushed for a vote in April or August.

“We should get on the citizens’ bandwagon,” said Norine Accurso, a south Kansas City resident and task force member. “I would vote for April (to put the plan on the ballot) for that reason.”

The Kansas City Star

this month surveyed the 36-member Citizens Light Rail Task Force, which was assembled by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority this summer to recommend a light-rail starter line to replace the Clay Chastain plan.

The task force recommended a $550 million starter route financed by a 3/8-cent sales tax. The council will meet today in a special light-rail session to begin discussing some of these issues.

Survey findings from the 20 task force members who responded:

•A majority of respondents either support a 1/4-cent sales tax to finance the light-rail project or want to hear more about other alternatives, such as creating a transportation development district.

•Many support going back to voters with a light-rail plan soon rather than waiting until November.

•Most respondents supported the task force’s current plan, presented to the City Council in November, although a few expressed dissatisfaction, saying the task force and ATA consultants did not explore all options for funding and routes.

The Star

sent e-mails this month to task force members with an eight-question survey. While 20 members answered the survey, nine others said they would not respond. Seven others failed to respond to several e-mail requests or telephone messages — some said they had attended too few meetings to respond.

Last month, the task force recommended a 12-mile starter route from 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard to Vivion Road and North Oak Trafficway in the Northland, with an eastern spur to Prospect Avenue. The $550 million plan would be financed by a 3/8-cent sales tax, with matching federal funds. Ed Ford, chairman of the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was not surprised to hear interest in pursuing a smaller tax.

“We did start with a premise of a 3/8-cent tax,” he said. “That’s a valid criticism.”

Ford said that he, too, would like to study other funding alternatives.

Dick Jarrold, the ATA’s chief engineer, said the transit agency is asking its consulting team to look at funding options beyond the 3/8-cent tax.

Jarrold said that going to voters in November would give the ATA more time to refine its plan. Going in April, Ford said, probably would not get a light-rail project built any faster, because federal funds would not be available for at least a couple of years.

But the task force members, who urged the council to repeal Chastain’s plan, feel obliged to offer a replacement plan as soon as possible. Otherwise, “I’d feel as if I had a little bit of egg on my face,” said Rob Willard, a Northland member of the task force.

Task force members said they worried about the 3/8-cent tax’s chances at the polls and the equity of increasing sales tax rates.

“Our sales tax rate is already high … so I’m generally supportive of trying to lower the potential sales tax and finding other non-sale-tax alternatives,” said member David Katz of North Kansas City.

The survey also showed that a majority of task force members who responded were generally satisfied with the plan they recommended. “It would work,” said member David Peironnet, a Gladstone resident.

A few members criticized the process. Fred Buckley, director of Missouri government affairs for the Home Builders Association, said he thought the ATA’s consultants just wanted a rubber stamp. “It seems that we did not have all the information that we needed to make an informed decision,” he said.

Several task force members said they wanted more information before recommending future extensions, although several pointed to a Kansas City International Airport route as logical. Several agreed that North Kansas City must contribute money to the project, since two miles of tracks would run through that city.