KCUR News
3:32 pm
Mon April 5, 2004

KC voters will decide on bonds

KANSAS CITY – Kansas City voters will be asked tomorrow if the city's council should be allowed to issue more than $300 million in municipal bonds. Most of the bonds would go to a growing backlog of deferred maintenance projects, as K-C-U-R's Matt Hackworth reports.

Kansas City's long list of crumbling streets, bridges and facilities would cost three-quarters of a billion dollars to repair. Most people agree repairs need to happen, the question is just how to pay for it. Not everyone thinks municipal bonds are the answer.

"People in this city don't trust this city to do what they say they're gonna do."

Mark Esping is part of the watchdog organization, Neighborhood Action Group. He says City officials will spend money on new projects, rather than catching up on deferred maintenance:

"It's a bond authorization. It means there are no specified projects. It means as each bond is let, then the project will be decided upon. So, it means it's a slush fund. It's a blank check."

Many cities use municipal bonds to pay for major projects. But Esping says other cities define those projects for voters on the ballot. Kansas City's question 1 doesn't offer any specifics, and Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes says it doesn't need to. Barnes says the public will be involved in what she says is a long process.

"That will include recommendations form the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, which many citizens have a lot of confidence in. There will be a committee process, the public hearings that will be occurring prior to the council making a final decision on the makeup of that specific issue."

Barnes is quick to point out that the bonds are not a tax increase, and it's important for the city to take advantage of current low interest rates. Kansas City is a community spread across more than 300 square miles and the Mayor says with low population density, bonds are the best choice to catch up on deferred maintenance.

"There is no other viable answer to get the quantity of work done we need to do."

Tomorrow's election also includes a $30 million bond proposal for the Kansas City Zoo and another $25 million plan to support Liberty Memorial's museum. All bonds require at least a 57.1 percent supermajority to pass. Once voters approve them, Kansas City's council can decide how best to spend the money, with or without public input.