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ELECTION: One Cent Sales Tax Up for Vote

By Maria Carter


Kansas City, MO – Kansas City, Missouri's one cent sales tax for capitol improvements has been around for almost a quarter of a century. For every dollar that goes into the till in Kansas City, a penny now goes to the city for infrastructure and other projects. On Tuesday, voters will decide if they want to extend the tax for another ten years. City leaders point to hosts of improvements where the tax has helped foot the bill from enormous projects like flood control on Brush Creek to smaller ones like new curbs. But some neighborhood advocates worry the sales tax does not do enough to funnel money into economically distressed areas. KCUR's Maria Carter has more.

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Orange signs have popped up in many yards over the past week or two. They say, Back to Neighborhoods and under that No New taxes. They're right. The one cent sales tax is notnew. In fact, it's been around since the Reagan administration. But city leaders are counting on voters to extend the tax. Mayor Mark Funkhouser says without the money conditions in many neighborhoods would start to slide downhill.

Mark Funkhouser: There will be more flooding of streets, more flooding of basements, worse sidewalks, it will be harder and harder for folks to get around. Street conditions will decline. That's obviously the opposite direction of where we want to go.

Funkhouser and other supporters of the sales tax point to what the tax has accomplished over the years. On Troost avenue south of 55th street, South Town executive director Marti Lee points to tidy sidewalks that now line much of the street. Lee says these and other upgrades can kick start a neighborhood.

Marti Lee: By making the basic improvement, you upgrade the entire area. It's kind of like the ripple effect. As soon as you do that everyone else follows suit and paints up and cleans up. It just makes it a whole different ambience in the community.

Neighborhoods throughout the city could see more money and more improvements with the tax. Before, 30 percent of the total tax was set aside for neighborhoods. That number has been upped to 35 percent with each council district splitting the pot equally and receiving some $4 million dollars each year. There's no organized opposition to the sales tax renewal. The black political organization Freedom Inc. had come out against the tax but waffled and now supports the tax. Some have raised concerns the equal split does not do enough for distressed neighborhoods. Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks tried to amend the ballot language during a finance committee meeting to add more money for distressed neighborhoods. Brooks said the current process for awarding money can be unfair

Sharon Sanders Brooks: That it tends to be skewed for those that have the flexibility in their schedule to be able to be and attend meeting during the daytime.

The projects go through the Public Improvement Advisory Committee or PIAC, a volunteer board that reviews capitol projects and makes recommendations to city council. Councilwoman Cindy Circo served on PIAC and says maintains the process is fair but it does to step up.

Cindy Circo: It's definitely not a sit back and wait kind of situation. You need to really be involved. And that's what I tell all my neighborhood leaders is let's find out what we need. Let's identify it. Let's get to work on it.

Besides the money for neighborhoods, 15 percent of the 68 million dollars the tax generates would go to help the city tackle its deferred maintenance backlog. The remaining money would be available for projects citywide. The current one cent sales tax will not expire until the end of 2008. If it fails this time, supporters say voters could see it on the ballot again next year.

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