“The basic infrastructure of our city is something we inherit, and must improve, to hand down to our kids and grandkids. We make our living because of it. We explore and enjoy our city because of it. And we make our city a better place to live when we value and invest in it.”
This week, debate continued at City Hall about the General Obligation (GO) Bond package citizens will be asked to approve in April 2017. We are seeking approval for $800 million dollars to be issued over 20 years, in order to make significant and critical upgrades to our city’s basic infrastructure. City Council has until January 19th to finalize the language for the ballot.
Earlier this month, as debate got underway, I outlined the four principles I thought should guide the conversation: 1.) We must build in accountability and transparency measures; 2.) Facts and data should guide our thinking; 3.) We must take a comprehensive approach to our infrastructure needs; 4.) We must recognize that every part of our city has basic infrastructure needs.
I am glad to say that, so far, the debate surrounding the GO Bond package has stayed true to these guideposts and I maintain my promise that I will not support a GO Bond package that fails to meet these expectations.
Three joint committee meetings have been held to debate the nature of the package, and public input has been and continues to be gathered at KCMomentum.com (offer your feedback as well!). After much debate and the opportunity for questions, concerns and feedback to be collected from the public as well as the council members, I want to offer what I think are essential priorities this GO Bond package should address.
1. Accountability: I understand – and agree with – completely the need for accountability. That’s why I have proposed an annual “report card” to be produced by the City Manager’s office.Each year, citizens will get to see a transparent accounting of the projects completed and associated costs, as well as a forecast for the next year’s projects and projected costs.We will never ask our citizens for blind trust or a blank check.
2. Flexibility: At the same time, attempting to detail every project over the course of twenty years, or make promises that are politically easy right now could leave future city leaders in a terrible situation should something happen to one of our essential city infrastructure assets, for example, the Buck O’Neill bridge. If the state or federal government can’t meet their obligation and repair the bridge (an unfortunate reality we need to account for) these dollars need to be available to a future council or mayor to tackle such an unexpected emergency.
3. A “Right-Size” Approach: The proposed scope of the package, authorizing $800 million overall, an estimated average of $40 million per year issuance of the bonds over twenty years, is a smart strategy based on factual analysis of city finances that protects our city’s credit rating while managing our debt responsibly.The fact is – approving a total of $800 million over twenty years is the lowest, slowest property tax increase schedule. Authorizing less than $800 million, or any amount over fewer than twenty years means raising property taxes higher and faster. Like shopping for your family’s basic needs, buying bonds in “bulk” means we can responsibly pay for them over time. We are asking citizens to invest in our city’s basic needs, and a total of $800 million means the typical Kansas City resident would see an average increase of eight dollars to their property tax each year over the twenty year life of the bonds. Shortening the timeline could perhaps even double that annual increase for residents. It would also mean we’d be paying more money to complete fewer projects and we’d fail to meet the expectation I set when I said we need a GO Bond package that addresses each of the basic infrastructure needs our city faces. The proposed plan, based on facts and ata, is the most efficient as well as the fairest.
4. Connectivity: With a city that covers 318 square miles and over 6300 lane miles of roadways, there’s no getting around the fact that roads are critical to our economy and neighborhoods. Our residents tell us every year through our citizen satisfaction surveys that street maintenance is important to them. This is a chance to strategically improve our roads, and to do it with a clear plan and structure in place that takes into account our need for complete streets, which allow for bicycles and pedestrians to travel our roads safely. Many of our roadways need to be rebuilt or resurfaced. These are not insignificant expenditures and we cannot continue to nickel and dime our way to 21st century roads.
Sidewalks are pedestrian roadways that are the lifeblood of our vibrant communities, consistently ranked alongside roads as top concerns in annual citizen satisfaction surveys. They tie homes and neighborhoods to retail districts, public transit, schools, and jobs.Right now, homeowners are responsible for paying to repair or replace their own sidewalks.Passage of the GO Bond package will eliminate homeowner costs for repairing or replacing existing sidewalks. This is not just good city planning, it means real savings for residents throughout the city by removing homeowner assessment costs currently required to fix existing residential sidewalks. Because we are serious about great neighborhoods as the foundation for our great city – we need to value connectivity and invest in both roads and sidewalks.
5. Necessary Upgrades: Repairing and replacing aging infrastructure will be a prominent component of the work the GO Bonds accomplish. In addition to roads, bridges, and sidewalks – there are three other types of critical upgrades our city needs to make in the coming years. These upgrades are focused on the type of infrastructure that make Kansas City a great place to live and work.
ADA compliance in our public buildings and sidewalks is something we should value as a city. As well, these are legally required changes spelled out in an agreement with the Department of Justice. Kansas City is home to a broad and diverse community, and we cannot continue to make accessing city services, transportation, or everyday travel unnecessarily difficult for our residents who require ADA compliance to access the city. The reality is that cities are modernizing to meet these needs and Kansas City cannot afford to fall behind. An inclusive, world-class city accommodates the needs of all its citizens.
Flood control may not affect every corner of the city in the same way, but the realities of flooding affect our overall quality of life and economic activity. Flooding in areas like Turkey Creek produces severe economic repercussions for businesses and property owners. Just this month, our Congressional delegation in Washington, Congressmen Cleaver and Graves, completed the tremendous work of securing more than $500 million dollars in federal flood control funding. They worked hard and our city council has advocated for this for years. It is a huge victory for our city’s needed levee and flood control maintenance. But this spending requires a match from the city, and we need to match the hard work of our Congressmen and commit our city to critical flood control projects. The GO Bond package can address this problem, and these matching funds, in order to tackle costly, repeated, and destructive flood damage our city faces every year. This isn’t just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a threat to people’s safety, it’s bad for business, and flood control is essential to our city’s basic infrastructure..
Finally, a city of our size and scope should have an animal shelter that is up to the task. Our current animal shelter is simply inadequate for our needs. Taxpayers should be pleased to know that the city has secured a public-private partnership that will allow a new animal shelter to be built, with GO Bond dollars paying for less than half of the total cost. Using GO Bond dollars to make this critical upgrade means the city will have a facility that meets the current and future needs of our citizens and pets.
It’s easy to say, that new years bring new beginnings. But I want to encourage Kansas Citians to think beyond just the turn of the calendar this next week. 2017 is a year that Kansas City can make a commitment to addressing our infrastructure for years to come. The basic infrastructure of our city is something we inherit, and must improve, to hand down to our kids and grandkids. We make our living because of it. We explore and enjoy our city because of it. And we make our city a better place to live when we value and invest in it.
The priorities laid out here for the GO Bond package are pragmatic, based on facts and data, not politics, and essential to ongoing success in our city.