Vote ‘yes’ on KC’s $800 million bond package

20170309_160613-2 Kansas City voters will be asked on April 4 to approve $800 million in general obligation bonds over the next 20 years.

It’s a big ask requiring property tax increases. It’s also worth voter approval.

These are essential priorities for government to accomplish to improve living conditions in our large city.

While there are legitimate concerns about the issues — detailed later — it makes good sense to vote “YES” on all three bond plans.

— Question 1 would finance $600 million to repair streets, bridges and sidewalks. Positively, part of the proposal eliminates sidewalk assessments against homeowners.

— Question 2 would spend $150 million for flood control. This would help the city get access to hundreds of millions in federal matching funds.

— Question 3 would use $50 million to fix public buildings. The key to this one passing is the city’s pledge to build a new animal shelter, with the help of private funds.

The sheer size of the bond package was always bound to attract opposition. Here are a few of the concerns and my views on them.

Trust in City Hall plays a much larger role than usual in the April 4 election. Unlike many past issues — say, when voters endorsed additional taxes for a better zoo,  a renovated Truman Sports Complex, and improved police and fire facilities — the bonds are targeted more loosely at long lists of needed upgrades.

Critics point out, correctly, that highly popular Mayor Sly James won’t be in office past mid-2019. Some other current City Council members will be gone after that year’s election, too. And yet there will still be 18 years or so of bonding authority left. Future councils could change some or even many of the current spending plans.

However, take a good look at those priorities. They are the same ones I wrote about in the late 1980s — the lack of street repairs, the under-funding of bridge repairs, the cost of sidewalk assessments for homeowners.

City officials properly contend that it makes sense to spend more money to deal with these infrastructure upgrades, which often are high on citizen satisfaction surveys. The councils, city managers and other top city officials who serve at City Hall in the coming years likely will carry out most of what has been proposed in 2017. At least this is where trust in City Hall comes in for me.

Opponents of the bond plan also focus on how much higher property taxes will go for Kansas Citians.

The city has at times tried to undersell the true expense. And it’s been irresponsible for the bond campaign — which is using James as the primary spokesman — to mail out ads that don’t even include the fact that property tax hikes are part of what “yes” votes will lead to. James should have made sure that information was included in the ads, given his prominent role in them, especially because he was promising “transparency” in one mailer.

The Kansas City Star’s Lynn Horsley recently provided an excellent report of the potential costs for homeowners.

The key to understanding the truth here is that the property tax increase to pay off $40 million in bonds annually for the next 20 years is cumulative: It goes up almost every year.

My take: Even in 20 years, when the tax is fully in place, the average higher property taxes of $160 a year for the owner of a $140,000 house and $15,000 in vehicles is not outrageous. In one example in The Star, that would be a 6 percent increase in the total property tax in the Kansas City Public Schools area.

Overall, I would agree with the city’s contention that this is a “modest” tax increase.

It’s one that many people will be able to afford and — more importantly — will benefit from in the future.