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When It Comes To The $800 Million Infrastructure Bond, KCMO Residents Want Transparency

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City residents will vote on an $800 million general obligation bond in April, which would go to addressing the city's aging streets, sidewalks, bridges and more.

When Mayor Sly James and his staff first proposed an $800 million general obligation bond to address the city's basic infrastructure needs, he acknowledged it would be a tough sell.

At a town hall meeting in Kansas City's Waldo neighborhood Monday, James had a chance to make his case. 

About 100 area residents showed up to ask the mayor just how the city plans to spend the money and how it will affect their own pocketbooks. 

"I know that everybody is wanting to say, you know, that is a lot of money and it is a lot of money, but this is a lot of city, 318 square miles of city. Four thousand miles of sidewalks, 6,300 lane miles of roads,” James said.

The proposal would include an incremental property tax increase over 20 years. Some people challenged the city's model for how that increase would work.

Credit City of Kansas City Missouri
This shows the city's estimated cumulative property tax increase for property owners in Kansas City, Missouri to finance an $800 million bond issue.

Based on the city's calculations, if the city issues $40 million in bonds per year, a person with a $140,000 house and $15,000 car would see an average increase of $8 per year on their property tax bill. That number could change, depending on how the city issues the bonds. 

If the city issues more than $40 million one year, the number could be higher.

"In some years its going to go up faster that that, in other years, it's actually going to be flat, and some years it might actually decline," Randy Landes, the city finance director said.   

He admitted in the early years of the bond, that number is likely to be higher. 

Although some people had questions about city government spending, most had questions about what the money would be used for. 

To that, James had a clear answer.

“This is about streets, roads, bridges, curbs, sidewalks, flood control, ADA compliance on public buildings, animal shelter, etc.  That’s it. No airport. No streetcar,” James said. 

No airport, no streetcar and no downtown hotel — those projects have their own sources of funding, James made clear. A list of projects already designated for repair is included in a resolution accompanying the ordinance.  

James acknowledged to the room that future councils will not be bound to that resolution. 

He said each year the city would release a "report card," which would detail exactly how they money was spent each year. 

Josephine Njoroge, who lives in Brookside, said she was happy with how James and his team addressed her concerns about how the money would be allocated. She says she had to pay for her own sidewalk repairs last year. 

"I love this city probably as much as the mayor, and we can't just keep kicking the can down the road, we do have to make these improvements, they are needed," she said. 

Another town hall will be held next week at the Kansas City Police South Patrol station. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster at KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter@larodrig

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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