In the Nov. 8 election, Kansas City voters will vote on two major bond initiatives that could lead to $175 million investment in Kansas City's parks, recreation, entertainment facilities and affordable housing initiatives.
In order for bond initiatives to pass in Missouri, there has to be a supermajority, which means roughly 57% of voters need to vote yes in order for it to pass. Ballot questions about the $175 bond issue will be separated into two questions on the ballot, so each question will need more than 57% of the vote in order to pass.
If both questions pass, $125 million will go to parks, recreation and entertainment facilities around the city, and $50 million will go toward the city's Housing Trust Fund.
The money will come from a general obligation bond, which is typically paid back through city taxes. In this case, the city is already paying an existing bond note, so this new bond note will replace the old one once it's paid off, which means it won't raise taxes further.
"We looked at how much we could spend without raising taxes and thought, 'What are our biggest priorities?' These facilities are certainly at the top of the list, our parks and open spaces, anything that improves quality of life for our residents are very important to us," city manager Brian Platt said.
Here's what you can expect to see on the ballot and a breakdown of what the city plans to do if these bond measures pass.
So what exactly is on the ballot on Nov. 8?
One question will ask whether or not voters approve of $125 million in bonds to go towards projects like convention center maintenance, city parks and local community centers. The second question will ask if voters would like to see $50 million in bond money go towards the housing trust fund, which we will explain more later.
Here's the exact language you will see on the ballot on Nov. 8.
Shall the City of Kansas City, Missouri issue its general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $125,000,000.00 for the purpose of paying for the acquisition, construction, renovation, improvement, equipping, and furnishing of City parks, recreation, and entertainment facilities?
Shall the City of Kansas City, Missouri issue its general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $50,000,000.00 for the purpose of affordable housing through the rehabilitation, renovation, and construction of houses and buildings, including blight removal, to provide affordable housing for very low- to moderate-income households?
What is a general bond?
A general bond is almost like a loan for local governments. In some cases, this kind of "loan" is paid back through tax increases. However, the city insists that this bond measure will not increase taxes or burden the city with any extra debt because the bonds would "coincide with the roll-off of existing bond debt," according to a statement from the city.
The city is currently paying off a general bond with taxpayer money, and once it's paid off, the city will replace that debt with this one, which is why Kansas Citians won't feel a tax increase.
How will the money be distributed?
Convention Center repairs
The Kansas City Convention center is slated for $45 million. Repairs to the convention center will include replacing the center's 15 year old carpets, renovating restrooms in both the convention center, music hall and municipal hall, replacing escalators and bringing the building up to American with Disabilities Act compliance.
Another $80 million will go towards parks and community center renovations (think swimming pools and playgrounds and other communal amenities).
"The convention and entertainment facilities are also important because they are actually more of an investment," Platt said. "Dollars spent here return to the city, bring more visitors to town, increase use of hotels, restaurants and all of our public facilities that generate tax revenue in return."
City officials hope renovating the convention center will make Kansas City a stronger contender for major events that will generate sales tax revenue. This November the city is already slated to host the National League of Cities Summit. Kansas City is also in the running to host the gymnastic Olympic trials, according to Platt.
Mayor Lucas said he also sees this investment as an opportunity to generate more taxes for the city that can pay for things like affordable housing developments.
"We need to actually generate the money to do right by the people," Lucas said.
Parks, Community Centers and Pools
Eighteen local parks, 10 community centers and seven pools would get $80 million.
The 10 community centers will split $30 million to address any overdue maintenance. Examples of projects include fixing the plumbing for the pool and the flooring for the basketball courts at the Tony Aguirre Community Center.
The seven pools will split $15 million in funds for renovations, including the Jarboe Park Pool, which has been closed for several years now.
"Every summer, people talk about the fact that we have too many pools closed, particularly swimming pools and community centers in the Black and Latino communities. And so I thought it was vital that we actually get caught up on areas that we needed to get caught up on," Lucas said.
Money for the 18 parks will be split evenly between the city's six council districts, with each getting $1.6 million dollars.
According to city spokesperson Morgan Said, Kansas City's parks and recreation has around $185 million worth of repairs and maintenance needed. So if the bond initiative passes in November, the $80 million will only cover less than half of the maintenance needed citywide.
Affordable Housing Trust Fund
The second question on the ballot would give $50 million to the city's affordable housing trust fund. The Housing Trust Fund is a pot of government money that is intended to help fund affordable housing projects across the city. The fund was created in 2018.
So far, $25 million in federal American Rescue Plan money has been allocated to the fund and $10.5 million in local dollars was reallocated to the fund instead of to a tax break for a large Chicago-based real estate developer to be distributed over 25 years. So far, the Housing Trust Fund has only invested $7.9 million, which led to the creation of 500 affordable housing units.
By investing an additional $50 million into the fund, the city will get closer to its original goal of investing $75 million into the trust fund to pay for affordable housing in the city.
Kansas City does not have enough housing for its lowest income renters, who make 30% of the average median income or less. The city reported in September that it's 27,000 units short of being able to house renters in this lowest income group.
That pushes those tenants into more precarious housing situations, with more than 60% of lowest income renters paying more than 50% of their income toward rent, putting them at higher risk of eviction with few options of other places to live in Kansas City.
Why is the city asking to fund these projects with bond money?
Mayor Lucas said that funding these projects through the general obligation bond will help the city avoid increasing tax rates for Kansas City residents. Many city services are funded by sales taxes, which the mayor said is not a sustainable option because sales taxes are regressive, meaning they are a higher burden on people who make less money.
The city is promoting this upcoming bond election as a "no tax increase bond." The reason taxpayers won't feel any increase if the bond is approved is because it will be replacing a previous bond obligation that already increased taxes.
"We're really trying to take care of core basics about what are the challenges we've had in Kansas City, but that's why we use this approach with bonds rather than looking to focus on new sales tax and create the tax burdens," Lucas said.
If the bond is approved, your tax rate will stay the same. If the voters do not vote in favor of the bond, the tax rate will decrease.
If the bond initiative is passed, how long will it take until we see improvements?
If the majority of voters vote yes to one or both of the bond questions, the money will be distributed over the course of the next five years.
In the first year, the city will distribute $35 million. Of that $35 million, $15 million will go towards affordable housing, $8 million will go directly to the convention center and $12 million will go to the city's parks and recreation, according to Said.
In year two, the city will distribute another $35 million. In year three, it will be $25 million, $20 million in year four and $60 million in year five.
"I think most people actually tend to agree that cities need to find more ways to generate money," Lucas said. "This is one way that other American cities have used, I think it will be helpful, I think it's important, and I think it's gonna make one hell of an impact on our city."