A multimillion-dollar bonus for City Hall
The Kansas City Star
Thanks to voters, City Hall will be getting a multimillion-dollar windfall in extra sales tax revenue early next year.
The potential for collecting this money exists because — well after the Kansas City Council approved current budget in early 2012 — a majority of voters approved a new half-cent sales tax on Aug. 7. The increase goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Ultimately, the city will reap about $8 million in new sales tax revenue by the end of the fiscal year, April 30, 2013.
That unbudgeted taxpayer largesse means city officials will need to allocate it smartly. The highest priorities are to keep the community centers open and to repair more roads. The city’s poorly maintained streets always draw some of the lowest satisfaction marks from residents, as occurred yet again in the annual survey released late last month.
The city already has plans to spend $4.5 million of the anticipated $8 million.
By law, the city has to divert a certain percentage of all sales tax revenues to support private projects backed by tax increment financing. That will use up $1 million of the new sales tax revenues in early 2013.
In addition, $3.5 million will be used to keep the Parks and Recreation Department’s community centers open until the end of the fiscal year.
Mayor Sly James and other elected officials had approved the current budget in early 2012 after vowing to find funds for the community centers, which had lost their source of revenue when the city’s vehicle license fee expired. Using the extra sales tax money this way is consistent with what voters were told would happen with future sales tax receipts. Indeed, starting May 1, 2013, most of the estimated $34 million in sales taxes will flow to the parks department, again as pledged to voters.
That still leaves an additional $3.5 million in extra sales tax revenue for other priorities in the current fiscal year.
City Manager Troy Schulte said the leading contenders were using $3 million for better road maintenance and $500,000 to help expand the hours of community centers.
Those are legitimate spending proposals.
Voters endorsed a new and better-financed street repair fund when they approved the higher sales tax in early August. That was a priority James especially stressed on the campaign trail.
Schulte said the extra money “might get us up to another 30 miles of streets repaved yet this (fiscal) year.”
City Council member Russ Johnson, a strong proponent of using more money to fix roads, indicated in an email that this plan was “essentially a done deal.”
Regarding the community centers, the parks department made it clear that it would have to close or severely limit their hours if the sales tax failed. But it passed easily, so parks supporters hope that keeping the centers open for longer hours will play well with Kansas Citians.
Ultimately, James and the council have to approve a plan for spending the sales tax windfall. Other ideas could emerge in the coming weeks.
The politicians need to show voters appreciation for giving the city the extra funds in the first place.