Kansas City will be able to replace about 28 miles of water mains each year for the next decade and make other crucial water facility improvements after voters agreed Tuesday to authorize up to $500 million in additional water bonds.
Voters approved the bond proposal, Question 1 on the city ballot, 79 to 21 percent, in unofficial final results.
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“The people of this city understand our needs for infrastructure,” Mayor Sly James said of the overwhelming support. “This will enable us to keep our promise to upgrade our water system.”
City officials said it made sense to borrow the money at historically low interest rates. The city will issue about $50 million per year for 10 years to fix water mains and other drinking water assets.
The city expects to address the worst areas first, especially around 85th Street from Wornall to Holmes roads and in the Northland area from the Missouri River to Vivion Road, between North Oak Trafficway and North Brighton Avenue.
The water bonds will be paid back with already scheduled water rate increases. While sewer rates will continue double-digit increases for at least seven more years, water rates will increase 10 percent this year, then are expected to taper off to 2 to 3 percent increases annually in 2015. The average residential water/sewer charge is expected to be about $84 per month in the coming year.
Question 1 was among five ballot questions that city voters considered in a very low-key, low-turnout election. All five were approved by comfortable margins.
“What’s passed tonight are all things that are going to allow us to innovate and make government more efficient,” James said.
Question 2, which passed 72 to 28 percent, allows the city to charge hotels and motels an annual permit fee to be used to inspect and clean up properties where sanitary conditions threaten public safety.
The remaining three questions called for reforming the city charter. The most significant, Question 3, changes the city election calendar.
Voters agreed, 75 to 25 percent, to move the council primary and general elections from February and March to April and June, beginning in 2015. For decades, City Council elections have been held every four years in the teeth of wintry weather, but this will now move the elections to more temperate weather.
“When we first confronted this issue, it seemed like a common-sense solution, and we’re glad the voters endorsed it today at the polls,” said Matt Dameron, who co-chaired a Charter Review Commission that recommended revising the election calendar.
In addition to improving voter turnout, the change should save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars because Kansas City will hold its primary on the same April day as various school districts and will share election costs with those districts.
Question 4, which passed 62 to 38 percent, requires the city to have a five-year financial plan, updated annually, and compels the city to set aside at least 1 percent of the general fund in its contingent appropriation for emergencies.
Question 5, which passed 57 to 43 percent, reduces the number of required city departments from nine to six: finance, fire, health, human resources, law and parks. The previous charter also required water, aviation and public works departments. The new charter requires the city to provide for those functions but doesn’t mandate specific departments and allows the city manager to reorganize if it makes administrative sense.