What’s in a question? Council members clear up ballot

Northeast News
April 2, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Missouri – On Tuesday, April 8, Kansas City, Mo., residents will head to the polls for the latest election.

This spring’s ballot includes Kansas City Public School Board of Education seats and various city measures residents will need to approve or deny. But do the voters know what they’ll be asked to vote for?

Scott Wagner and Jan Marcason, Council members who represent the First District and portions of the Northeast, helped break down what the voters will be asked to decide on April 8, 2014.

Question 1

“Shall Kansas City issue and sell waterworks revenue bonds in the principal amount of $500 million for the purpose of extending and improving the waterworks system of the city?”

This question comes up every ten years, Wagner said. What the question boils down to is, the city is asking for bonding authority for ongoing work on the city’s water system. There are no increases in property taxes or any other taxes in connection with this bond authorization.

“We are beginning to see a number of bonds roll off and this would allow us to do the work we’ve been doing the past 10 years,” Wagner said.

The bonds will not increase water bill rates, he added. He said the city would receive about $50 million a year, over a 10 year period. The larger amount allows the city to complete larger projects. With pipes installed over 100 years ago and some as recent as the 1940s and 1950s, Wagner said its an issue that will continually needs to be fixed.

“It’s important to folks in Northeast because there’s a mix of old lines and really old lines,” Wagner said. “This issue always comes back before the voters because we [council members] just can’t enact it.”

Question 2

“Shall Kansas City be authorized to establish the following fees for permitting, inspecting and regulating lodging establishments such as hotels and motels for the purpose of protecting the public health and safety? Application fee of $100 for initial lodging establishment apllications or modifications of particular requirements and conditions embodied in permits. Annual permit and re-inspection fees dependent of the number of rooms in the establishment, re-investment fee of $250 for the reinstatement of any permits that have been suspended. Late fees of $50 per month for permit renewals not submitted by January 31 of each year.”

Marcason said the city council found issues with the living conditions and sanitation in city motels and hotels. Even though the hotels and motels pay a fee to the state for inspections, Marcason said the inspections were not happening as frequently as council members thought.

“We suggest the city has its own fee and conducts inspections like it does with restaurants for health and safety issues,” Marcason said. “Then we can say whether its safe or not. We need some authority to do inspections ourselves but also some revenue as well to defer the costs.”

Wagner, who said he’s done a lot of research for this ballot question, said the city didn’t like what the state was doing because the state wasn’t doing anything. He added the last couple of years, the state wasn’t conducting inspections.

“By having the permits and inspection fees, we should be better able to police what is going on in these hotel and motels to be more proactive with community health,” Wagner said.

Question 3

“Should the Charter of Kansas City be amended by moving the election dates from late February and late March to early April and late June and beginning terms of office on August 1?”

Because election dates are in the city charter, it requires a vote to be changed. Wagner said the council wants to move the election dates for two reasons. First, holding elections in early April and late June would save the taxpayers money.

“We are the only jurisdiction in the area that currently holds elections in late February and March,” Wagner said, adding the city has typically had to set aside $1 million during budget sessions because it has to foot the bill. This allows the city and many school districts to hold elections at the same time and save taxpayers money.

Secondly, if the city moves the election to a time of the year when other jurisdictions are holding their elections, Wagner believes the result could equal a bigger voter turnout.

“By going to a late spring/summer election, we expect more people to come out to the polls,” Wagner said.

Question 4

“Should the Charter of Kansas City be amended by updating financial reporting and procedures; providing for submission of the annual budget by the city manager to the mayor and the city council based on a required five-year financial plan; expressly permitting the mayor to work with other governments if the interests of the city can also be advanced; renaming recognized emergency ordinances as ordinances with an accelerated effective date; permitting elected officials to serve in non-city appointive positions not inconsistent with their public office?”

Five years ago, the city pushed for a five-year financial plan to decide where its heading and if the city has enough revenue to do the items in the plan. Marcason said with the help of financial software to help with financial forecasting coupled with the five-year plan, the city is now better prepared to get input from residents come budget time.

“The public needs to say what their expectations of service levels are,” Marcason said.

If this question passes, the city manager would have more time, to build a budget around the public’s expectations. That way, the city can better manage the expectations along with its five-year plan.

“Theoretically, the public would have more opportunity to weigh in on the budget,” Marcason said, adding now, the budget is almost finalized when it goes to public comments. “It’s turning the process 180 degrees. I think it is a much better way to develop resident input.”

Question 5

“Should the Charter of Kansas City be amended by removing the requirement that certain operational Charter departments be listed in the charter but retained until modified by the city council and requiring the existence of a Health Commission?”

Marcason wasn’t sure, exactly, why this question landed on the ballot.

“It’s more of an inside City Hall question,” Marcason said.

She explained the question would allow the city manager to place certain functions the city maintains and couldn’t do withouth – legal department, finance department, etc. – into the city charter. This would allow the city manager to easily combine the departments in the future, if needed.

“It gives the city manager better flexibility for structural design,” Marcason said.

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