June 7, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – City leaders are taking another look at the initial $40 million first-year General Obligation Bond project list that was presented by the City Manager’s office in early May.
Kansas City voters approved the $800 million GO Bond program in April. The election ballot featured three distinct sections: $600 million for roads, bridges and sidewalks; $150 for flood control; and $50 for public buildings and a new animal shelter. From there, it was up to City Manager Troy Schulte to provide an initial list of roughly $40 million in shovel-ready projects to be completed during the first year of the 20-year lifetime of the bond program. That list, which features work on 18 distinct projects, was included in a letter dated May 1 that was sent to members of the City Council and Mayor Sly James. Notable area projects included on the list were $3.5 million for Paseo Gateway intersection improvements and $4 million to begin renovations at the Kansas City Museum’s Corinthian Hall mansion.
“Since the election, we haven’t stopped working on the plan to spend the first $40 million,” Schulte wrote at the time. “We want to get the shovel-ready projects rolling, and we have to tackle the backlog of spot sidewalk repairs. I know councilmembers are also anxious to get going, so this gives them a chance to review the list and provide us with the feedback we need to finalize the plan.”
During a joint Finance & Governance and Transportation & Infrastructure Committee meeting on the morning of Wednesday, June 7, City Council members provided feedback on City Manager Troy Schulte’s initial list.
Committee co-chair Jermaine Reed, who represents the 3rd District, surprised some in attendance when he brought up the possibility of adjusting the year-one project list to include up to $10 million in funding for the Prospect MAX line.
“That probably should be listed on the first year of funding, but I don’t see that anywhere on this list,” Reed said.
Ralph Davis of the Public Works department replied that the City match for Prospect MAX was expected to be funded in year two or three of the GO Bond program. Reed, however, responded that he had contradictory information from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) that indicated the funds should be distributed in year one.
“I would suggest that we work through this information,” Reed said. “I’ll make sure that we can forward this to you.”
City staff took time during the meeting to explain their definitions of what a “shovel-ready” project looks like. Davis put together perhaps the simplest explanation, describing “shovel-ready” as a project that would be ready to begin construction by November 1, 2017.
Staff also explained why certain projects were included in the first-year GO Bond list. John Wood of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department addressed the inclusion of $3.6 million in infrastructure repairs for the Beacon Hill Southwest Quadrant, noting that in addition to being shovel-ready, the City is in the fifth year of a 10-year agreement in which it needs to meet a Federal match for development in the neighborhood.
“We have about $6.5 million in liability with HUD, and all of it is in Beacon Hill,” Wood said.
Parks and Recreation Director Mark McHenry explained the $4 million in funds for Corinthian Hall, which had been questioned by 4th District Councilwoman Katheryn Shields during a previous work session. McHenry noted that Corinthian Hall was already closed and that contractor JE Dunn was in-house and ready to get to work on renovations.
Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association President Leslie Caplan added during public testimony that the renovations at Corinthian Hall were part of the City’s promise to Northeast residents who came out in support of the $800 million GO Bond package.
“We have repeatedly been told that the Kansas City Museum would be the recipient of some of these funds,” Caplan said. “Many sources of funding are now coming into this area, and the city must be an active participant.”
Another point of discussion revolved around the lingering questions about Public Improvement Advisory Committee (PIAC) involvement in the process of developing priority projects in each Council district – a notion that was included in the companion resolution created alongside the $800 million G.O. Bond ballot measure. According to Section 7 of the resolution, “The Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) shall review and comment on the City Manager’s recommendations to the Council on the projects to be funded in each bond issue.”
In addition, Section 8 of the companion resolution calls for the City Manager to implement a Community Benefit Agreement – intended to ensure employment opportunities for underrepresented groups – for any GO Bond project that exceeds a budget of $300,000.
Although those sections of the resolution have not yet been realized, there are some on the Council who feel the greater promise to constituents was to hit the ground running on vital infrastructure projects that are truly shovel-ready. Sixth District Councilman Scott Taylor, who is not part of the joint committee, testified in the meeting about his concerns that key deadlines would be missed if the Council wavered to long before approving the first-year project list.
“At some point, it will be too late to start some of these projects this year because of the weather,” Taylor said. “A real community benefit will be getting some of these projects started this year.”
Following the meeting, committee co-chair Scott Wagner of the 1st District expressed similar concerns about the repercussions of pushing off a vote on the first-year GO Bond project list.
“If you really want all of these other side issues dealt with 100%, then what you’re doing is pushing off a decision,” said Wagner. “Eventually, if you push off a decision long enough, then you won’t be able to get good pricing for the projects that you already have.”
Wagner also addressed the Council discussion over what constitutes a “shovel-ready” project.
“I think what people are trying to get around is the notion of what should qualify to go on a G.O. Bond list, and what does one have to do in order to go onto the list,” Wagner said.
Despite his concerns, Wagner expressed confidence that a Council agreement will eventually be reached – and before its too late.
“I always have confidence that things can be resolved,” Wagner said.