April 3 election seeks to extend capital improvements tax
By John Sharp
South Kansas City voters will be going to the polls again Tuesday, April 3, to decide whether to extend the city’s current 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements which would otherwise expire the end of this year for 20 more years.
The measure (listed on the ballot as Question 1) requires a simple majority to pass.
The sales tax, last renewed for 10 years in 2007, now raises about $70 million a year, which legally must be spent on capital improvements such as streets, bridges, curbs, sidewalks, flood control, parks and public buildings.
The ballot language commits to continue to allocate 35 percent of this amount to neighborhood capital improvements divided equally among the six City Council districts which adds up to about $4 million per district annually.
This money is spent on projects recommended by the Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC), which I sit on as the representative of Councilman Kevin McManus, subject to the final decision of the City Council which very rarely changes these recommendations.
The remainder of the revenue must be spent on other capital improvements, with review and comment by PIAC (ballot language that was added at my request), and at least 25 percent of the total revenue must be spent on street resurfacing, repair and construction of complete streets including features such as bike lanes and pedestrian improvements.
The ballot language also provides that sales tax funds may be spent on the city’s share of the cost to replace the structurally deteriorating Buck O’Neil Bridge (formerly known as the Broadway Bridge) over the Missouri River, which carries more than 44,000 vehicles daily.
Without local participation in funding a new bridge, the seriously underfunded Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) had said it would only repair the bridge at a cost of about $51 million which could close it for up to two years, thus overloading other bridges over the river, and it would still have to be replaced later.
The city has received commitments from MoDOT to contribute half of the estimated $200 million cost of the new bridge. An additional $40 million in federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds has been committed to the project through the Mid-America Regional Council over the next four years, contingent on KCMO not seeking STP funds for other projects during that period.
KCMO is seeking a federal grant to pay part or all of its $60 million share of the project. If the grant is not approved or it does not cover the entire amount, the city intends to use sales tax revenue to pay its share over a multiyear period.
(About $5.6 million in urgent repairs to the bridge with the cost split equally between MoDOT and the city are now planned to start in June or July and are expected to take about five to six months to complete, according to Russ Johnson, city chief capital projects officer. During the work, two lanes will remain open for northbound traffic, but southbound traffic will have to take alternate routes.)
To the best of my knowledge, there is no organized political opposition to the sales tax extension which has been endorsed by the South Kansas City Alliance and the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Besides numerous smaller park, sidewalk, storm drainage and trail projects, major projects in south Kansas City funded entirely or partly by the sales tax during the last two fiscal years, or recommended for funding for fiscal year 2018-19 and scheduled for Council approval Thursday, March 22, include:
135th St. – widening and improving the street and water main replacement from Wornall Rd. to Inverness Dr.
155th St. – widening and improving the street from I-49 to the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base
Blue River Rd. – local match for federal funding for final design and right-of-way plans to replace the failed and failing portions of the street
Ruskin Way – construction of sidewalks so Ruskin High School students don’t have to walk to and from school in the street
107th St. – construction of sidewalks from Blue Ridge Blvd. to Bristol
Ward Pkwy. – construction of a retaining wall and other erosion control measures northbound from Wornall Rd.
Holmes Rd. – completion of final design and right-of-way plans to widen and improve the street from Blue Ridge Blvd. to 137th St.
“The capital improvement sales tax has allowed us to make important investments in neighborhoods, parks and city infrastructure,” City Councilman Kevin McManus said. “By supporting Question 1, we can keep making these investments for south Kansas City’s future.”
Renewal of the tax will allow the city to continue to fund neighborhood capital improvement requests in south Kansas City such as sidewalks, crosswalks near schools and park amenities for children, City Councilman Scott Taylor said.
“It will help us keep the momentum going in south KC,” Taylor added.