On August 7, Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS, voters are being asked to renew a 3/8 cent Public Safety and Neighborhood Infrastructure Sales Tax for 10 more years.
If the measure doesn’t pass, all services are on the table to be reevaluated with the possibility of some getting cut, said Edwin Birch, WYCO public information officer.
Revenue from the sales tax pays for 25 firefighters and 25 police officers, plus neighborhood improvement projects. As approved in April 2010 by the voters and recommended in the renewal ballot issue, revenue from the sales tax is only allowed to pay for public safety and infrastructure improvements.
For 2018 alone, the 3/8-cent sales tax is expected to generate $10 million.
The revenue picture in Wyandotte County was rather dire in 2010, when the sales tax was first put to a vote. At that time, the Kansas economy was rebounding from a recession, and property values had declined or flattened. The city government had furloughed some of its workers and also put a moratorium on raises to make up for budget shortfalls. In addition, KCK residents were subjected to an increase in their public utility bills.
Over its 10-year life, the sales tax is projected to generate $80 million. In addition to putting more police and fire “feet on the street,” revenue from the tax has helped purchase new fire trucks, police cars and other public safety equipment. Neighborhood infrastructure projects have included road resurfacing, providing safe routes for children to neighborhood schools by creating sidewalks, and park improvements. A full list of improvement projects from 2010-2018 can be found by commission district under the sales tax projects section on www.wycokck.org.
In April, the Unified Government surveyed its residents and asked what type of improvement projects they would like to see in their own neighborhoods.
Birch said the commission used the data collected from that survey to help them in their project selection process.
Kansas City, KS, Mayor David Alvey is optimistic the renewal will pass. He favors the sales tax over other measures that have been suggested, including an increase in residential property taxes.
One benefit of the sales tax over property tax is that visitors to the city help foot the bill, especially those who visit Village West for NASCAR, baseball, shopping, eating and other activities.
Increasing the property tax will reverse another positive gain generated from the sales tax. Since 2016, the KCK property tax rate has been reduced 8.8%.
“We are very sensitive to the folks in our community who are on fixed income or retired and don’t see their revenues grow,” Alvey said.
After years of focus on Western Wyandotte County, in his recent State of Government address, Alvey outlined a plan to focus development on the eastern end of the county, starting with downtown KCK and the Strawberry Hill area. Increasing property taxes, he says, could help slow that redevelopment effort. “We find that property taxes can be a disincentive to further investment,” Alvey said. “If we can just bring improvements to a neighborhood of $50,000 homes so that it becomes and attractive area and those homes average $55,000 or $60,000 each, we’ve just grown the tax base 10% (without increasing property taxes).”
While the current property tax doesn’t expire until 2020, the UG Board decided to present the renewal for a vote, two years early.
“If it doesn’t pass, we have time to go back then and make the case to our voters,” the mayor said.