PIAC isn’t PIAC Anymore

When originally passed in 1983, the city’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee’s (PIAC) duty was to direct 1% of the city’s sales tax revenue towards resident-requested public improvement projects.

As a reference point, one of the primary beneficiaries of PIAC dollars over the years has been Cliff Drive. PIAC dollars helped fund the original 1986 restoration of the drive through requests submitted by citizens and neighborhood organizations bordering the drive. Down through the years, PIAC funds have been used to rebuild the stone walls along Cliff Drive, as well as to pay for additional improvements such as stairways and Green Lake drainage improvements, all at the request and direction of citizens and the local neighborhood organizations.

On April 3rd, residents of Kansas City will once again be asked to renew the 20 year tax that this year will direct over $70-million in annual capital spending projects. One look at the ballot language for the initiative, however, has this civic-minded news-dog giving it a big thumbs down given a newly-added, 14-word phrase that gives the City Manager and Council the ability to re-direct any funding they see fit toward the replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge. Additionally, any such ordinance could be dubbed an “emergency” by the council and given an accelerated effective date in order to get their hands on the cash faster. Boss Tom is alive and well at City Hall, folks.

The added phrase: “…including the City’s share of the costs for the replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge,” is a slap in the face to every citizen and neighborhood leader who has patiently waited in line, on their own time, at an evening PIAC hearing to give testimony to any number of micro-local projects such as alley paving, sidewalk repair or neighborhood park improvements. The ballot language revision basically means, with a wave of the City Manager’s hand, the $60 million funding gap the city faces for the replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge could come from PIAC funds. A one year re-direct could leave citizen-based PIAC requests with a paltry $10-million in funding. Former Councilman and current 6th District PIAC representative John Sharp showed the city’s cards for that cash grab in a February 2018 column in the Martin City Telegraph, in which he lists a number of completed projects in the 6th District, most under $500,000 in total, but then lays out the city’s case for the redirection of cash to the aging bridge.

This news-dog warned this type of chicanery would become the norm in a December 2016 column that spotlighted 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed’s push to redirect $27 million to the 18th and Vine District. It was a big middle of the street, dog and pony show that ultimately saw roughly $9 million funneled to the district instead of the original ask.

According to the city’s web site, PIAC’s purpose is supposed to be citizen-driven; specifically “allowing residents the opportunity to express their opinions, concerns and project requests regarding the forthcoming capital budget.” It also specifically states the focus on “resident input.” It doesn’t say developer input, City Manager input or Mayoral input. The only say that City leaders should have is the yes or no vote on the Public Improvements Advisory Committee’s recommendation, nothing more. This Dog thinks maybe it’s time those on the 29th floor of City Hall to get reacquainted with the original intent of PIAC instead of continuing to use it as a slush fund to cover cost overruns for legacy projects that are not citizen directed.

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