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Streetcar taxing district plan is legal, judge says

Last August at Union Station, visitors to the Modern Street Car Party, sponsored by the Regional Transit Alliance, toured an AmeriTram Ebrid Modern Streetcar.
Last August at Union Station, visitors to the Modern Street Car Party, sponsored by the Regional Transit Alliance, toured an AmeriTram Ebrid Modern Streetcar.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles Atwell on Friday upheld Kansas City’s proposal for a special taxing district to support a downtown streetcar system.

Atwell said the planned district, which encompasses most of downtown, is not illegal.

He also found that the district does not pose an undue burden on any property owner within the district and is not unjust or unreasonable.

Some prominent property owners have asked why the city proposed increasing property and sales taxes just downtown rather than citywide to help pay for the streetcars. The city responded that this area will reap the biggest financial and economic development gains from a new streetcar route, running from the River Market to Crown Center.

The new district, and the specific taxes in it, must still be approved in special elections later this year by registered voters living within the district boundaries.

Some downtown property owners have complained that because they don’t live in the district, they don’t get a vote and this is “taxation without representation.”

But Atwell said it is not a violation of the Missouri Constitution to have a vote that does not extend to nonresident property owners.

City Councilman Russ Johnson, the council’s primary streetcar advocate, said Atwell’s ruling is significant.

“We are going to build the streetcars.” Johnson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Atwell’s ruling sets the stage for a special mail-in election this summer to affirm creation of the transportation development district. Registered voters living within the district can apply to the Jackson County Court administrator for a ballot from Monday to May 22.

Request forms will be available Monday online at www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar or at the Jackson County Courthouse, 415 E. 12th St., Room 303.

Those ballots will be mailed to qualified voters on June 19 and must be returned by July 31.

If the district’s creation is approved, the actual tax increases must be affirmed in a second election. That election could come this fall.

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