Lewis Diuguid

August vote on streetcar extensions in Kansas City raises concerns among African Americans

People on the East Side are right to express reservations about Kansas City’s proposed streetcar extensions and the cost being disproportionately borne by poor and working-class families.

Construction has begun on a 2.2-mile starter line downtown, running from near Union Station to the River Market. That will be completed in late 2015.

The city on Aug. 5 will ask voters to extend the streetcar routes from downtown along Independence Avenue to Benton Avenue, along Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and branch from Main Street along Linwood Boulevard to Prospect Avenue. If approved it could mark the biggest City Hall economic development and infrastructure investment since the East Side became the core of the black community.

But African American leaders are torn about the multimillion-dollar cost and the possible 1-cent sales tax plus a property tax assessment for properties within a third of a mile of the proposed extensions, The Kansas City Star reports.

Some churches throughout the propsed district have raised concerns even during Sunday services because they are not exempt from the property tax assessment.

If the ballot issue passes in August the tax question would go to voters in November — but only those people in the proposed taxing district. The odd configuration runs from State Line Road east to Interstate 435 and from the Missouri River south to about 51st Street between State Line and the Paseo. It swings south to Gregory Boulevard and east along Gregory Boulevard to I-435.

The sales tax is regressive and would disproportionately hurt poor and working families. And if that isn’t bad enough, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon complicated the August vote in Kansas City by adding a three-quarter-cent statewide highway transit sales tax on the same ballot.