Government & Politics

KC Council grapples with how to craft winning infrastructure bond proposal

The Kansas City Council worked Wednesday to provide more specificity in an $800 million infrastructure bond proposal that may go on the April ballot.
The Kansas City Council worked Wednesday to provide more specificity in an $800 million infrastructure bond proposal that may go on the April ballot. jledford@kcstar.com

Kansas City and New York City each span more than 300 square miles, but New York is densely packed with 8 million people, while Kansas City sprawls with fewer than 500,000 residents.

Huge land mass, small Midwestern tax base. That’s why infrastructure maintenance in Kansas City is such a struggle, and why the backlog totals billions of dollars.

So Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte are advocating an $800 million, 20-year infrastructure bond proposal to put before voters in April, to address crucial road, sidewalk, building, park and flood-control needs.

But now the City Council is wrestling with how to craft a winning general obligation bond plan that can win 57 percent voter support despite a modest property tax increase. The deadline for ballot language is Jan. 19, and council members began haggling over details of such a ballot at a joint committee hearing Wednesday.

“This is a big ask,” Schulte acknowledged to the committee.

Others said it will be a “tough sell” to voters because issuing $40 million per year over 20 years requires a property tax bump. The owner of a $140,000 house and a $15,000 car would pay $8 more in the first year, with cumulative increases, so that at the end of 20 years that owner’s property tax bill would be $160 higher.

A city document outlines the type of projects that could be funded, including enhancements to the planned Prospect MAX bus; many major road improvements such as Holmes and Wornall roads; a new animal shelter that would be a public/private partnership; Brookside and other flood-control projects; and mandated building upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Diane Burnette of MainCor heartily endorsed the concept and said streetscape investments on Main Street have prompted significant private development.

“The economic impact of what we’re talking about is incredible,” she said.

But the council continues to grapple with how to maintain flexibility for future needs while giving voters sufficient specifics to inspire approval.

“We can’t pass a tax, but we can sell a product,” Northland Councilman Dan Fowler said, adding that right now his constituents don’t see enough Northland projects to warrant support. He said he realized every other part of the city also feels neglected.

Some people believe the priority should be roads that serve cars, while others pleaded for bike/pedestrian lanes. Sidewalk advocate Mary Cyr said sidewalks are a huge need in Historic Northeast and should be a focus in the central city.

The joint committee resumes debate at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 15. Public input can be provided at kcmomentum.org.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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