Government & Politics

Animal shelter? Sidewalks? Kansas City mulls possible $800 million plan

The Kansas City Council and civic activists debated Thursday how best to frame an $800 million bond proposal to win voter approval. The council will start to draft actual ballot language next Thursday.
The Kansas City Council and civic activists debated Thursday how best to frame an $800 million bond proposal to win voter approval. The council will start to draft actual ballot language next Thursday. jledford@kcstar.com

The Kansas City Council has broad community support for fixing the city’s huge infrastructure problems, but just how to do so remains a big debate.

The council heard more disagreement Thursday over how to frame a proposed $800 million infrastructure bond package, including how much should be spent on roads versus sidewalks, bike lanes and buildings.

The council is wrestling with how to write ballot language by Jan. 19, to meet the deadline for a citywide vote in April. The $800 million would be the largest general obligation bond authorization in city history and would require 57 percent voter approval.

Former City Councilman John Sharp, who was known on the council as a careful wordsmith, suggested that to get public support, the ballot language should include such specifics as a new animal shelter, arterial streets and bridges, plus sidewalk repairs, improvements to enhance the Prospect MAX bus service and building upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It’s just a way to start the conversation,” City Manager Troy Schulte emphasized, adding that the details can be adjusted.

The city’s finance staff is arguing for more general, flexible language, because anticipating future needs is difficult. Finance Director Randy Landes pointed to a successful $250 million general obligation bond vote in 2004 for just “deferred maintenance and basic capital infrastructure.”

But some council members said voters need more specificity. Mayor Sly James has argued for flexible language but suggested there could be an annual “report card” to assure voters the money is being spent responsibly.

Some labor groups strongly endorsed the bond proposal because of its potential to create construction jobs. The fiercest debate appears to be over how much to spend on roads.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields and Ed DeSoignie, executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association, argued the bulk of spending should be for road reconstruction, which ranks high on citizen survey rankings and can be a catalyst for economic development. Shields said sidewalks aren’t an enticing topic when she speaks to neighborhood groups, especially in the Northland and southwest corridor.

But some neighborhood leaders and disability advocates said sidewalk fixes are their biggest need.

“Sidewalks are the connectivity of this community,” said Sheila Styron of the Whole Person.

Councilman Jermaine Reed said the council has to strike the right balance between specificity, flexibility and spending categories. And time is running out with for the legislative process.

“We have 36 days to make this sausage, and hopefully it doesn’t burn,” Reed quipped.

The “sausage making” continues with another council committee meeting, 9:30 a.m. Dec. 22 in the council chambers at City Hall.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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