At Urban Summit, civic leaders propose sales tax to benefit inner city

Urban core leaders announced Saturday they are launching a Kansas City petition drive to place a ⅛-cent sales tax on an upcoming ballot to address blight, economic development and neighborhood stabilization.

Money generated would help remove vacant houses, create jobs and stabilize struggling neighborhoods on the city’s east side, organizers said. They announced the initiative during the fifth annual Urban Summit held at the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium.

“The city as a whole is only as strong as the urban core,” said Karen Curls, chairwoman of the group’s housing and neighborhood committee. She said the tax would aid neighborhoods in the areas roughly bounded from Ninth to 71st streets and from Troost to Indiana avenues.

Organizers plan to finalize petition drive details in the next two weeks but plan to use the recently approved Kansas City Zoo ⅛-cent sales tax as their inspiration, she said. Voters in Jackson and Clay counties approved that tax, which is expected to generate more than $17 million annually for zoo improvements, maintenance and attractions.

Summit leaders said if voters approve, the new sales tax revenue would be collected by the city and distributed in a method similar to how the Public Improvements Advisory Committee endorses funding.

To place it on a ballot, organizers need to collect 3,572 valid signatures of registered voters, equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City, said urban core voters repeatedly have supported every tax initiative that raised money for downtown development, the Truman Sports Complex, Union Station and public transportation.

“Why not a tax to revitalize the urban core?” Grant asked. “It is time to make a sustainable economic investment in Kansas City’s urban core.”

The theme for Saturday’s summit was “Pursuing Progress East of Troost,” and it sought to address issues that affect inner-city families and neighborhoods.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr., Martin Luther King Jr.’s nephew and national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the luncheon speaker.

Farris said that the annual King holiday should be spent doing community service.

“It is not a holiday to pull out the barbecue grill or go to the park,” he said. “It is not a day for our stores to run King Day sales.”