Kansas City mayor scales back plan to raise property taxes

Kansas City Mayor Sly James is backing off his proposal for a property tax increase for infrastructure but still wants to pursue a half-cent sales tax increase for parks.

James said Wednesday that he was changing his proposal for the August ballot in response to concerns raised by constituents and business leaders.

“What we’re trying to do is find the best possible package,” James said in an interview. “Frankly, this stuff is pretty damn complicated, and if we want to try to do it right, we’ve got a whole lot of moving pieces.”

The new plan will be debated by a City Council panel at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. The council must pass ballot language by May 24 to qualify for the Aug. 7 ballot.

The mayor last week had proposed several ballot measures. Those included the half-cent sales tax increase for parks, to replace a vehicle license fee that’s expiring and some unpopular park property taxes. The mayor also called for a $500 million general obligation bond issue for infrastructure, which would require 57 percent voter approval for a property tax increase.

But some council members and civic leaders raised concerns, especially about how the general obligation bond money would be spent and about the merits of a property tax increase in tough economic times.

James said Wednesday he is now considering just proposing the half-cent sales tax increase for parks at this time, to replace the vehicle fee and possibly the park property taxes. If approved, that sales tax would sufficiently fund the parks system and allow the city to take millions of dollars now spent on parks and use that money for streets instead.

The ballot also would include a $500 million revenue bond package for sewer improvements. Those sewer bonds, which would need a simple majority voter approval, would be paid for with already-planned sewer rate increases and would not require a property tax increase.

That doesn’t mean the idea of infrastructure bonds is dead. James said the city still needs huge investments in crumbling bridges, streets, sidewalks and buildings. But postponing that issue until April would give the city more time to come up with a specific, coherent plan and build voters’ faith in City Hall.