South KC Perspective
$800 Million GO Bonds To Be Decided April 4th
John Sharp Provides an In-Depth Analysis
By John Sharp
Three separate bond issues authorizing Kansas City to issue up to $800 million in general obligation bonds for basic infrastructure improvements will be decided by city voters on April 4.
Each of the issues will require a four-sevenths majority (a little more than 57.1%) to pass.
The issues were placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Mayor and City Council. An accompanying City Council resolution stated bond proceeds will focus on repairing, replacing, rebuilding and expanding existing city infrastructure. The resolution also named specific projects eligible for funding from bond proceeds.
City Manager Troy Schulte and city elected officials have repeatedly said they intend to issue an average of $40 million in bonds annually for 20 years if all bond issues pass, and that commitment is also stated in numerous places on the city’s website. The last bonds issued in the 20th year of the program would be fully paid off by fiscal year 2056, according to Tammy Queen, Deputy City Finance Director.
Material on the website also states that if all three issues pass, city property taxes for the average household with a $140,000 house and a $15,000 car would rise an average of $8 a year, totaling a $160 increase by year 20. However, a detailed answer to frequently asked questions on the website notes, “In some years, the annual increase will be higher, especially in the beginning. In some years, the impact will be lower, especially in the middle and ending years of the program.”
Simply adding $8 a year in property taxes for 20 years would seemingly result in higher tax payments totaling $1,680 over the 20-year period.
However, based on higher increases in the early years of the 20-year program which are cumulative, City Finance Department staff estimates the actual increase in property taxes for the average homeowner over 20 years would total $2,026.17, after subtracting decreases in taxes as other bonds are paid off. Based on these figures, the average city property tax annual bill would be $158.72 higher than now by year 20.
While I would have preferred it if the city had committed to fund specific projects from bond proceeds, rather than just naming eligible projects, I am confident that south Kansas City now has the leadership and organizational and political strength to assure our shovel-ready projects such as the last phase of 135th St. improvements will be promptly funded if the bond issues pass.
All of the top priority major street improvements that south Kansas City residents have been requesting for years such as reopening Blue River Rd. and widening and improving Holmes Rd., Red Bridge Rd. and 135th St. are included in the list of projects eligible for bond funding. So are long needed flood control projects. And the bond issues provide for city funding for sidewalk replacement and repair so that burden isn’t put on the shoulders of adjoining property owners.
These are key reasons why both the South Kansas City Alliance (SKCA) and the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce have endorsed the bond issues.
The following is a more detailed explanation of all three bond issues.
Question 1: Infrastructure and Sidewalks
Question 1 would authorize issuing up to $600 million in general obligation bonds for constructing and reconstructing streets, bridges and sidewalks.
The accompanying Council resolution notes up to $150 million of this amount will be allocated to sidewalk projects. It states, “Sidewalk projects shall focus on systematically repairing and replacing existing sidewalks without assessment to adjoining property owners.”
The resolution also directs the city manager to stop the collection of outstanding sidewalk assessments if the bond issue passes.
I believe these are great changes from existing city policy that allocates all or most of the cost of sidewalk repair and replacement to adjoining property owners which often runs into thousands of dollars. Schulte told a February meeting of the Citizens Association that it’s not uncommon to see a sidewalk assessment of $10,000 for persons who own a corner lot.
This often leads to strong resistance to sidewalk repairs from home owners in lower income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with large numbers of senior citizens on fixed incomes, even though their sidewalks may be in terrible shape, due to their fear of not being able to pay the assessments.
The resolution states that bond funds will pay to construct curb ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at an estimated 450 intersections throughout the city.
The resolution also states the city will pay a minimum 50% match for all new sidewalk projects petitioned for by neighbors where sidewalks don’t currently exist.
It says a higher city contribution may be available in priority areas such as on bus routes and around schools, and additional city funding may be provided through the city’s current one-cent sales tax for capital improvements. (Recommendations for projects to be funded by this sales tax are made by the Public Improvements Advisory Committee that I serve on.)
Living in an area where many neighboring subdivisions have no sidewalks and narrow asphalt streets with ditches alongside them, I commonly see children walking to or from school in the street, parents pushing baby carriages in the street or persons in motorized wheelchairs in the street. I have seen too many incidents where speeding or inattentive motorists have had to swerve at the last minute to keep from hitting these persons.
The resolution says street projects will focus on safety and capacity improvements or reconstruction of existing streets. South Kansas City street projects listed in the resolution as examples of such projects include:
- Blue River Rd. – 87th St. to Red Bridge Rd.
- Holmes Rd. – Minor Dr. to 137th St.
- Red Bridge Rd. – Blue River Rd. to Grandview Rd. and Holmes Rd. to Wornall Rd.
- Wornall Rd. – 63rd St. to 79th St. and 85th St. to 89th St.
- 135th St. – Wornall Rd. to 150 Highway
The resolution states that bridge rehabilitation will focus on projects that best improve the city’s bridge sufficiency ratings so that 90% of its bridges are rated in good or better condition. South Kansas City bridge projects listed as examples of such projects include:
- Holmes Rd. bridge over Indian Creek
- Old Bannister Rd. bridges over Blue River Rd. and over the Blue River
103rd St. bridge over Indian Creek