Guest Commentary

Mayor Sly James: Keep Kansas City world class with a ‘yes’ vote on GO bonds

Mayor Sly James gives details on $800 million 'GO' bond proposal

Kansas City Mayor Sly James held a Town Hall recently to discuss the city’s $800 million general obligation bond proposal that will be for voters to decide on the April 4 ballot. Dan Coffey of Citizens for Responsible Government had a few observat
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Kansas City Mayor Sly James held a Town Hall recently to discuss the city’s $800 million general obligation bond proposal that will be for voters to decide on the April 4 ballot. Dan Coffey of Citizens for Responsible Government had a few observat

The infrastructure around us is one of our most vital assets. We can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

When I entered office in 2011, our city faced a $6 billion maintenance backlog. Why? Because it’s not the politically easy route to propose shared investment and long-term results. And I think what we need in order to keep our city’s momentum going is more leadership and less politics.

That’s why I firmly believe that on Tuesday, voting yes on Questions 1, 2 and 3 is the right thing to do for our city.

But that’s not just my opinion. It’s the work that residents want done. You want City Hall to address streets, sidewalks, flooding and aging buildings. Over 20 years, the $800 million general obligation, or GO, bonds prioritize projects that consistently rank at the top of citizen satisfaction surveys.

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So the city manager and I, along with the City Council, went to work last year putting a plan together. It’s comprehensive, responsible, transparent and addresses vital basic infrastructure needs.

Each year, the city will produce a public report card that accounts for the work we did and the costs, along with what projects will be addressed and projected costs for the coming year.

Over 20 years at approximately $40 million per year, this plan asks everyone in the city to invest through an annual property tax increase on both residential and commercial properties.

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This plan is the lowest, slowest payment method possible. The average residential property owner, with a $140,000 house and a $15,000 car, would see an increase in their property taxes each year for 20 years. That property would see an average of $8 added to their property tax each year. In year 20 that property owner would pay an average of $160 more than they pay today.

Bottom line: We all share in the infrastructure, and this plan ensures that we all share in providing the resources necessary to tackle long-standing needs in all corners of the city. The cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of our shared investment.

Roads and bridges have been under-maintained for decades. Businesses in low-lying industrial areas have moved out of town because of repeated flooding.

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Our city’s animal shelter is actually a repurposed storage warehouse used during the 1960s. We have city buildings built in the 1920s that people with disabilities simply cannot access because they are not ADA compliant. This is not simply a federal mandate, but a moral mandate as well.

The plan will also establish a citywide systematic sidewalk repair program, meaning property owners will no longer have to cover these costs out of pocket. This sidewalk program can amount to thousands of dollars in savings to property owners.

These are the things to which a world-class city commits. Fixing our infrastructure might not be good politics, but it is very good policy.

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That’s why I’ve been willing to make the case directly to you, the residents. I have taken part in dozens of public forums since January and answered questions from hundreds of residents.

The thing is, I love doing it because the rooms are full, the questions are sincere, and you deserve to know how your dollars will be spent.

I have faith in the people of this city to understand this need to come together, roll up our sleeves, and engage in the hard work of progress.

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If this was easy, it would have been done already. This is our opportunity to do what’s best for future generations.

Sly James is mayor of Kansas City.

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