Kansas City Council members on Thursday signaled their willingness to ask voters for more money for parks and sewers.
Members of the City Council’s finance and infrastructure committees endorsed Mayor Sly James’ proposal for the August ballot, calling for a sales tax increase for parks and a huge new sewer bond package.
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The full council is expected to make a decision on specific ballot language next Thursday, in time to qualify for the Aug. 7 ballot.
Question 1 would ask voters to halt a fee of $12.50 per licensed vehicle, plus stop the collection of parkway and trafficway property taxes and a boulevard front foot tax.
In exchange for that tax relief, voters would be asked to approve a half cent sales tax increase for parks and community centers. Mayoral spokesman Danny Rotert estimated that the average Kansas City resident would pay $68 in additional sales tax per year, about the same amount saved from the vehicle fee and property tax relief.
The new sales tax is expected to generate $30 million for parks and community centers, about $3 million more than park operations currently receive each year.
Park Director Mark McHenry said the new money would allow the department to extend community center hours and programs as well as improve park mowing, flowers and landscaping, tree trimming and other services.
“The last five years have been devastating for parks,” Park Commissioner Aimee Gromowsky told the council, citing $18 million in cuts over that time. She said the new sales tax could start to turn that tide.
In addition, having a sales tax dedicated for parks would free up about $13 million from the general fund that currently supports parks. The council committees endorsed ballot language pledging to redirect that general fund money to street maintenance, which is chronically underfunded and is currently a big frustration for the city’s motorists.
Question 2 on the ballot would call for $500 million in sewer improvements, primarily to comply with a massive, federally mandated sewer overhaul program. The bonds would be paid for with annual double-digit sewer rate increases that began several years ago and already are scheduled to continue for about seven more years.