Mayor Sly James gives details on $800 million 'GO' bond proposal
Kansas City’s voters have a rare opportunity next month to embrace a future as a first-class community.
With that in mind, we endorse the $800 million bond package that goes before voters April 4.
There is much work to be done when it comes to shoring up our roads, sidewalks, bridges and even our animal shelter. We need to upgrade city buildings and our system of flood control, and it’s time to get to it. Kansas City voters have demanded for years that city leaders keep their eyes trained on the basics, and this package does exactly that.
To be sure, there’s nothing sexy about any of it. This is the basic nuts and bolts of city-building, the type of proposal that gets few excited. But we believe Kansas City should face this challenge head-on, even if it means a long-term property-tax bump.
This package is that important. To ignore these needs at a time of bargain-basement interest rates is to jeopardize Kansas City for generations to come.
Some perspective: The $800 million package is only a fraction of the $6 billion in infrastructure needs that officials have identified. This proposal places but a small dent in a larger set of needs that will require the city’s ongoing attention.
The plan arguably doesn’t go far enough. But it is reasonable and affordable, given our uncertain times. And it will address needs from the northern-most reaches of Kansas City all the way south to 155th Street. It calls for every property owner to pitch in at least a little.
“That’s the nature of living in a city,” Mayor Sly James said at a recent forum. “Everybody contributes to the pot.”
One more point of context: Kansas City, with its 319 square miles, is large enough to contain San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston combined and still have 53 square miles left over. Those cities are home to 3.3 million people who pay for basic needs. We have but 478,000.
Let there be no doubt: We face a bigger challenge when it comes to paying for the foundation on which this city is built.
Some have called for city officials to release a more specific set of proposals and a detailed timetable. But James and City Manager Troy Schulte have rightly reasoned that they need the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances with an aging city infrastructure.
They have promised annual “report cards” that detail how the money was spent and what’s planned for the year ahead.
All spending will be reviewed via a multi-tiered process that includes the citizen-led Public Improvement Advisory Committee and the City Council itself.
The bond package is separated into three questions, each of which must pass to implement that phase of the proposal.
Question 1 calls for $600 million for streets, bridges and sidewalks. It transfers the responsibility for paying for sidewalks from property owners back to the city.
Question 2 seeks support for $150 million in flood control bonds. That money is expected to leverage as much as $565 million in federal flood control dollars that our two members of Congress, Emanuel Cleaver and Sam Graves, included in water legislation.
Question 3 seeks funds for the new animal shelter and other improvements to buildings, such as Starlight Theatre, to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Either we improve those buildings now or pay federal penalties in the years to come.
While we are concerned about the city’s debt level, we note that $1 billion of it comes off the books in the next decade. Debt capacity remains for future emergencies.
We also wish the city had been more transparent about the plan’s ongoing costs. To be clear, the average homeowner will pay about $100 more a year — not the $8 figure that a campaign flier erroneously suggested.
Still, we recommend “yes” votes on all three questions. Consider them votes for our city’s future.