Monday, May 26, 2008
Street Improvements Given Cold Shoulder by City Hall
The last two budget years have been lean ones for advocates of street maintenance in Raytown. Even though Raytown taxpayers gave resounding approval for a one-half cent sales tax for street maintenance, only a trickle of the tax dollars has been spent as promised. To understand the reason for the cut in funding one has to go back two years. When the 2006 – 2007 budget was written, it was discovered at the end of the budget session that the Finance Department had forgotten to include a final payment for capital improvement bonds that had been approved by the voters three years earlier. That being the case, it was decided to use money set aside for street overlay to pay off the bonds in the 06/07 and the 07/08 budget years. The fiscal impact has been huge. Street maintenance has been slashed to one quarter of what it should be for the past two years. The lack of maintenance on the streets is showing in many parts of town. Crumbling curbs and sidewalks, intersections that have deteriorated into crumbled asphalt, and potholes are a constant reminder of the lack of maintenance. The damage to vehicles and the deleterious effects on traffic safety are only the tip of the iceberg. Community pride in how we feel about our neighborhoods and property values are also affected. At the Board of Aldermen’s last meeting I brought forward a discussion item to spend money left over from last year’s budget (as outlined in this year’s annual audit) to address the need for increased street maintenance. The audit showed that the city has a surplus in excess of 2 million dollars. To say the proposal was not received well would be an understatement. A number of speakers from both city staff and the Board of Aldermen tried to confuse the issue by referring to the money as part of a reserve. That tactic is misleading and simply not true. The City of Raytown has a reserve fund equal to 17% of the city’s annual budget. The 2 million dollars is money that was unspent from the previous year. It has not been earmarked for any purpose and can be spent for any purpose the Board desires. In fact, the Board has already tapped the 2 million dollars for nearly $150,000. About $100,000 was recently approved to pay for increased insurance costs of city employees. Another $50,000 was approved for payment of a study on infill housing. The need is definitely there. Acting City Administrator Mahesh Sharma told the Board there are streets in Raytown that have been neglected so long that they are classified as “failed”. According to Sharma, this classification means the entire street needs to be taken down to the base to be rebuilt. The Board of Aldermen did not entirely shut the door on the improvements. But the time to give direction to the Public Works Department to increase this year’s street maintenance budget is growing smaller. Bids will be taken in the near future for the work. Once that milestone is passed, it becomes difficult to increase the work on streets in progress. Years ago the taxpayers approved a one-half cent sales tax specifically earmarked for street maintenance in Raytown. The voters were promised that the half cent sales tax would be more than adequate to maintain the city’s streets. They put their faith in their elected officials to keep that promise. For the past two years that promise has been broken. The Board can rectify the situation by adding money to this year’s street overlay program. The Raytown Board of Aldermen should take this opportunity to right the course of Raytown and get back to the business of fulfilling its promises and taking care of the basic needs of the city. THE WALMART FACTOR: It has been written here before, but from testimony given at the last meeting of the Board, it obviously needs to be repeated. When the Super Walmart is constructed and open for business the city’s sales tax revenues will take a big hit. Here is why. The current Walmart, located at 67th and Blue Ridge creates approximately 12% of Raytown’s sales tax revenue. That money goes straight to the city’s coffers. The new Super Walmart will create sales tax revenue. But it will not go to the city. The sales tax revenue from the new Super Walmart will go to pay off the TIF package created to underwrite the new Walmart for the next 23 years. This means that the new Super Walmart -- which is considerably larger than the current one and also has a grocery store -- is estimated to capture upwards to 18% of all sales tax revenue in Raytown. At the last meeting of the Board, Alderman Jim Aziere asked City Attorney Nancy Thompson if the new Walmart Super Center will create sales tax revenue. Ms. Thompson never did get around to answering Alderman Aziere’s question. So I will answer it here. Yes, the new Walmart will create sales tax revenue. But nearly all of that money will go to pay the debt created by TIF. That includes the one-half cent sales tax dedicated for street maintenance. That money will pay for the parking lot and an intermodal bus depot on the west end of the Walmart parking lot. The only way the city will receive additional money from the special sales tax district would be if other new commercial development is built within the district*. At the time of this writing there are not any plans in place for such new construction. Given the state of the economy, which is feeling the effects of a home mortgage crisis and an extremely unstable fuel crisis, it is doubtful any new development will start soon. There is always hope for better days in the future. And development will undoubtedly come in time. But for the near future, Raytown’s city fathers should look to doing some pre-emptive work on street maintenance to forestall future disruptions in cash flow. *The district runs from Raytown Road to the city’s eastern boundary along 350 Highway. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: Andy Whiteman asked who voted against the $50,000 contract for a study on infill housing. The answer is Greg Walters. Others have asked about the fate of curb-side recycling efforts in Raytown. Until Mayor Bower reverses his decision to do nothing on the two-year notification process, any effort to move forward is stalled. The city’s legal department has received a copy of a resolution used by city’s in Missouri that would start the two-year clock running on the waiting period to begin curb side recycling. The Mayor sent a written memo to Committee members thanking the members for their service and disbanded the committee. Committee members still consider themselves at the forefront of this issue. But they also accept the political reality that without the Mayor’s cooperation, their efforts will not move forward. Untiel he sends a signal, there is little sense in resuming the effort. Passage of the resolution would not commit the city to any other action for at least two years.