Government & Politics

Petitioners seek KC sales tax increase to support East Side development

Petitioners Vernon Howard Jr. (from left) and Sam Mann turned in signatures Friday to the City Clerk’s Office in Kansas City. They want a sales tax increase measure on the April ballot to benefit East Side development.
Petitioners Vernon Howard Jr. (from left) and Sam Mann turned in signatures Friday to the City Clerk’s Office in Kansas City. They want a sales tax increase measure on the April ballot to benefit East Side development. lhorsley@kcstar.com

Petitioners turned in signatures Friday to the Kansas City Clerk’s Office, seeking an April ballot measure for a sales tax increase to support East Side development.

But some may see the measure as competing against the city’s own plans for a giant infrastructure bond measure on the April ballot.

The petition initiative was led by the Urban Summit, an urban-core advocacy group; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City; Freedom Inc.; and other African-American community groups. Representatives turned in nearly 1,900 signatures, which election authorities still must verify. Petitioners need 1,708 valid signatures of registered voters to place a measure on a city ballot. The City Council will consider the proposal and must approve it by late January to meet the deadline for an April ballot measure.

The proposal seeks a one-eighth-cent citywide sales tax increase for 30 years to support development projects in neglected areas bounded by Ninth Street and Gregory Boulevard and by the Paseo and Indiana Avenue. The proposal would raise about $8 million per year, or almost a quarter of a billion dollars over three decades. A five-member board, appointed by the mayor and City Council, would help recommend how the tax proceeds would be spent.

“For far too long, urban-core residents and businesses have been abandoned by the major economic development projects, which have spurred jobs, business growth and entertainment in areas outside of the inner city,” said Vernon Howard Jr., SCLC president and senior pastor of St. Mark Union Church, who helped lead the petition drive.

“City, county, state and federal jurisdictions have not, to date, focused upon the inner city with the kind of zeal, investment, intentionality and creativity as have been vested within mostly white and wealthier neighborhoods and communities.”

Lawyer Clinton Adams Jr., another supporter of the petition drive, said the African-American community and voters have repeatedly supported citywide sales tax increases for public safety, capital improvements and the zoo, but have not reaped the benefits that wealthier parts of town have seen. He said he hoped the broader community would be willing to support this effort to lift up the East Side.

But it may compete with other measures that the City Council is planning to put on the April ballot. City Manager Troy Schulte, Mayor Sly James and other council members have recently begun talking up an $800 million general obligation bond authorization to pay for major street, sidewalk, bridge, building and park improvements and for a new animal shelter.

That ballot measure would require a modest property tax increase over 20 years. The council also hopes to ask Kansas City voters next April to renew the city’s 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements, since it too pays for major infrastructure projects and is set to expire in 2018.

In an emailed statement Friday, James raised a concern with the grass-roots petition initiative.

“The petitioners and I share the belief that East Side development is vital to the overall health of our city,” James said, adding that the city has made huge infrastructure and development investments in the East Side while he has been in office. “However, tax increase proposals tend to work best with a coordinated, strategic approach, and I’m concerned this proposal currently falls short of those elements.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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