Costly streetcar plan keeps plugging along
The Kansas City Star
As Kansas City Council member Russ Johnson put it, “This project is a go.” He was speaking of the proposed streetcar line, which would run from the River Market to Union Station, or about two miles.
Spirits were high among supporters Wednesday, when backers learned several hundred voters had approved creation of a special taxing district to produce the needed revenue.
Yet as this effort progresses, it seems more and more worrisome.
We favor rail transit, something with which this city has struggled for decades. But the current plan would call on downtown and its environs — the area now within the special taxing district — to carry three-quarters of the load of the estimated $100 million cost.
The 10,000 or so registered voters in that area will determine whether property owners and residents will face a substantial tax increase, through higher levies on retail sales and on commercial and residential property. The risk is that the likely upward pressure on rents would make Kansas City’s downtown less attractive to new businesses, residents and investment in general.
The specific tax rates will be decided in an election expected this fall. But if the maximums are applied, the sales tax would go up by 1 percent, the commercial property rate would rise by 48 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the residential rate would go up by 70 cents per $100 of assessed value. The tax bills for very large properties could rise by six- or seven-figure amounts.
The out-on-a-limb character of this endeavor was only magnified earlier this summer by word that the feds had turned down Kansas City’s request for a $25 million grant. City officials say they’ve figured out how to make up for that. They plan to tap another pot of federal money and grab some savings by eliminating a station and halting the rails near Union Station, rather than continue closer to Crown Center.
But consider that to make the math work, the city also says it will have to yank $2 million a year out of the already-strained general fund budget. To paraphrase a line from “Jaws,” this city needs a bigger tax base.