John Sharp: Three Questions Await Your Vote on April 4 Ballot

Kansas City voters will vote on three separate bond issues for basic infrastructure improvements totaling $800 million in the April 4 election.


South KC Perspective

Three Questions Await Your Vote on April 4 Ballot

By John Sharp

SharpJohnKansas City voters will vote on three separate bond issues for basic infrastructure improvements totaling $800 million in the April 4 election.

The mayor and city council on January 19 unanimously voted to place the following questions on the April ballot:

Question 1 – A $600 million bond issue for construction and reconstruction of streets, bridges and sidewalks

Question 2 – A $150 million bond issue for flood control projects, including those partially funded with federal grants

Question 3 – A $50 million bond issue for a new animal shelter partly paid for by private funds and improvements to public buildings and structures including improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

An accompanying resolution, also passed unanimously by the council, states the intention of the mayor and council concerning the allocation of the bond proceeds.

Regarding Question 1, the resolution notes street projects will focus on safety, capacity improvements or reconstruction of existing streets, and will include traffic signal synchronization and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, street trees and other “complete street” concepts as appropriate.

Speaking on the bond proposals, City Manager Troy Schulte told a January 18 meeting of the Southern Communities Coalition that although city bridges are in pretty good shape, a recent survey of city streets showed only 55.4% were in fair or better condition, while 44.6% were in poor or failed condition.

Examples of south Kansas City street projects that could be funded by the bond program listed in the resolution include:

107th St. – Blue Ridge Blvd. to James A. Reed Rd.

135th St. – Wornall Rd. to 150 Highway

Blue River Rd. – 87th St. to Red Bridge Rd.

Holmes Rd. – Minor Dr. to 137th St.

Red Bridge Rd. – Holmes Rd. to Wornall Rd. and Blue River Rd. to Grandview Rd.

Wornall Rd. – 63rd St. to 79th St. and 85th St. to 89th St.

Eligible south Kansas City bridge rehabilitation projects listed in the resolution include:

103rd St. bridge over Indian Creek

Holmes Rd. bridge over Indian Creek

Old Bannister Rd. bridge over the Blue River

Old Bannister Rd. bridge over Blue River Rd.

The resolution states bridge rehabilitation projects will focus on those which best improve the city’s bridge sufficiency ratings so that 90% of its bridges are rated in good or better condition.

Sidewalk projects will focus on systematically repairing and replacing existing sidewalks without assessment to adjoining property owners, according to the resolution, which also directs the city manager to halt the collection of outstanding sidewalk special assessment balances if the bond issue passes.

The resolution notes the city will pay a minimum of 50% of the cost of sidewalks where none exist if adjoining property owners petition for them, and higher city contributions may be available in priority areas such as along arterial streets and bus routes or around schools. It also states additional city funding may be made available for new sidewalk projects from the city’s 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements. (Recommendations of projects to be funded by this sales tax are made by the Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) that I serve on.)

A maximum of $150 million will be allocated to sidewalk projects, according to the resolution, which also says the council will develop a comprehensive plan to assess the needs for sidewalk projects throughout all council districts in order to appropriately allocate available bond funds. The resolution notes bond funds will be used to construct ADA compliant curb ramps at about 450 intersections throughout the city.

South Kansas City flood control projects listed as eligible for bond funding in the resolution if Question 2 passes include projects to protect the Dodson Industrial District around 85th St. from 71 Highway to Prospect and the Swope Park Industrial Area around 75th Terrace east of Cleveland.

Recent federal legislation authorized federal funding of slightly more than $36.3 million for the Dodson project which will require a 25% local match of about $12.1 million and federal funding of a little more than $21 million for the Swope Park project that will require a 35% local match of slightly more than $11.3 million.

After seeking federal funding for these and other major flood control projects for years, if the city is unable to provide the required matching funds, that will clearly jeopardize future efforts to secure federal flood control funding which is a highly competitive process.

Other important south Kansas City flood control projects named in the resolution as eligible for bond funding include projects to minimize Indian Creek flooding from State Line Rd. to Wornall Rd. and to prevent frequent storm water flooding in the Brookside area.

In addition to a new animal shelter and ADA improvements at city hall, the Swope Park pool and various park locations, the resolution names renovation of Corinthian Hall at the Kansas City Museum as eligible for bond funding if Question 3 passes.

Schulte told the meeting of the Southern Communities Coalition that about $14 million in bond proceeds will be used to construct the proposed new animal shelter, and that private donors are expected to raise at least $10 million in additional funds for the project, including funds for a maintenance endowment, through the current “Raise the Woof” fundraising campaign. Earlier reports have noted that about $3 million in private funds could be used for construction bringing total construction costs to about $17 million, with an additional $7 million in private funds used to fund the maintenance endowment.

The new approximately 60,000 square foot shelter, envisioned to be about four times the size of the existing 45-year-old shelter at 4400 Raytown Rd. south of the Jackson County Sports Complex, is proposed to be built in Swope Park at Elmwood and Gregory Blvd. It will be just west of an off-leash dog park and across the street from the Lakeside Nature Center.

In 2016, the animal shelter operated by KC Pet Project took in more than 10,000 pets and achieved a record high live release rate of 94.8% despite operating in a decrepit and woefully undersized facility once used for construction material storage. It is the third largest “no kill” open admission animal shelter in the country.

Much of KC Pet Project’s success in adopting out stray and surrendered pets is due to its adoption centers in the Zona Rosa Shopping Center and in the Overland Park Petco Store and the cat habitats at five other Petco stores, which altogether accounted for over 3,000 adoptions in 2016.

The proposed bond issues are a key component of a comprehensive capital improvement program proposed by Schulte which focuses the use of bond proceeds on repairing, replacing and expanding existing basic infrastructure. If all three issues pass, he has said he intends for the city to issue an average of $40 million in bonds every year over a 20-year period.

Based on figures presented by city staff, the increased property tax to pay off the bonds for the average household that owns a $140,000 house and a $15,000 vehicle will average $6 annually for Question 1, $1.50 for Question 2 and 50 cents for Question 3.

By the time the last bonds would be issued in the 20th year of the program, property taxes for the average homeowner would be $120 a year higher than now if Question 1 passes, $30 a year higher if Question 2 passes, and $10 a year higher if Question 3 passes.

All of the measures will require a four-sevenths majority (a little more than 57.1%) to pass.

As predicted earlier in this column, Schulte’s proposal to put a 20-year extension of the current 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements on the April ballot was tabled by the city council. That tax does not expire until the end of 2018, and Schulte told the council that an extension can be approved as late as the August 2018 primary election without causing a gap in collections.

Two other items proposed by committees of petitioners will be on the April ballot that I will discuss in more detail in a later column.

One would limit the maximum fine that can be imposed in Municipal Court for possession or control of 35 grams or less of marijuana to a maximum of $25, eliminate jail as a possible punishment for possession or control of marijuana and remove marijuana from the definition of drug paraphernalia in the city code of ordinances.

The other would impose a one-eighth cent citywide sales tax for 10 years starting October 1, 2017, to fund economic development projects in a portion of the central city bounded by 9th St. on the north, Gregory Blvd. on the south, Paseo on the west and Indiana on the east. A 5-member board appointed by the mayor with approval of the city council would be created to recommend projects for funding.

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