Kansas City voters on Tuesday approved a citywide one-eighth-cent sales tax to be used solely for economic development in one specific part of Kansas City’s core.
The issue, which landed on the ballot through an initiative petition, was backed by a coalition of groups concerned with a dearth of commercial and residential investment along the Prospect Avenue corridor.
The measure needed a simple majority to pass, and in nearly complete returns it garnered about 52 percent of the vote.
The issue appeared on the ballot as Question 4, the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax.
Clay and Platte county voters resoundingly rejected the issue, but the vote south of the river reversed the tide.
“If this holds, we can say that central city residents, based upon our reading, rose up and voted in our own interests to level the playing field and make economic development more just in this municipality,” said the Rev. Vernon Howard, a lead backer of the proposal.
Leaders of the Urban Summit, Freedom Inc., the Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Kansas City offered the sales tax plan as a means to encourage investment by developers, basically along the Prospect Avenue corridor.
“We did this without having the kind of financial and political support from major players within the Kansas City power structure,” Howard said. “If this holds, this was a victory for the little man and the little woman.”
Kansas City Mayor Sly James was strongly against the tax increase because he didn’t think the proposal contained enough specifics about how the money would be spent. But Tuesday night, he said he was fine with the voters’ decision “and we will get to work, and we will make sure we do it right.”
The tax, as proposed, will last for 10 years, providing an estimated $8.6 million a year. The money is to be used to encourage redevelopment in an area bounded by Ninth Street to the north, Gregory Boulevard to the south, The Paseo to the west, and Indiana Avenue to the east.
Supporters envisioned the tax revenues as seed money for property acquisition, bridge financing or other assistance that would help developers do projects they otherwise couldn’t afford or that wouldn’t provide adequate return on their investment.
City Manager Troy Schulte and some other key civic or business leaders also opposed the measure. They criticized the timing, the use of a sales tax, which some saw as regressive, or the lack of specificity about projects.
James and Schulte said they preferred to work on a Shared Success ordinance passed by the City Council, which has a similar goal to channel economic development incentives to the central city.
Other city officials, such as City Councilman Quinton Lucas, said he couldn’t fault the initiative petition group for trying to remedy decades of disinvestment in the inner city.
The tax is to be administered by a five-member commission, with three members appointed by the mayor and City Council, one member by Jackson County, and one member by Kansas City Public Schools.
From the outset, supporters acknowledged they would have difficulty getting voters citywide to approve funds targeted for only one area. However, Tuesday night, those fears proved unfounded.