by Mary Rupert
Mayor David Alvey told residents Thursday that Kansas City, Kansas, is at a crossroads
“We’re at a time and place where we have an opportunity to choose our future,” Mayor Alvey said in a speech at a community meeting Thursday night at the Joe Amayo Argentine Community Center, 2810 Metropolitan Ave., Kansas City, Kansas. More than 50 persons attended the meeting.
The mayor said the fundamental responsibility of local government was to enhance the quality of life and to be good stewards of financial resources. Kansas City, Kansas, can improve its financial situation if it invests in quality of life improvements for residents and businesses, he said.
He began a series of community presentations on Thursday night, just days after about 80 percent of Wyandotte County residents received notices in the mail about their home valuations increasing.
What residents want: Survey results
Showing the results of the citizen survey released recently, Mayor Alvey noted several areas where residents’ perception of the city had improved, and also noted areas where the residents wanted more services. The recent survey showed significant improvements, according to the company that conducted the survey.
Residents in the survey said they wanted the top focus for services to be maintenance of city streets, police services, communication with the public, code enforcement, trash collection and recycling and storm water runoff – management system, he said.
“Residents stop me and say, mayor, we need you to fix our streets, or mayor, we need you to send the police out to catch the speeders on our streets, or mayor, we need more services for our young people in our communities,” Mayor Alvey said. “And then they say, and I need you to lower my taxes.
“We want it all, we want better service, better infrastructure, we want lower taxes,” he said.
Gap between existing revenues and what residents want
He said a large gap exists between where the city is now in revenues and where it would be if all the services were offered that residents wanted.
Part of the gap was caused by past decisions made by the Unified Government Commission responding to residents who wanted lower taxes, he said. The city’s budget was reduced 6 mills since 2016, he said. A consequence was that there was less money available for services, he said.
Borrowing just means the city will have to pay the money later, with additional funds for interest, according to the mayor. Currently 17 mills, or 44 percent, of the city’s 38 mill rate goes toward debt, he said. Fifty six percent, or 21 mills, goes toward UG operations, he noted. Paying the debt that the city already has limits what it can do, he said.
“We have only so much money, and we have to be careful with it,” Mayor Alvey said.
The UG is using priority-based budgeting, going over each department’s expenditures to make sure expenses fit with the commission’s priorities, public input and surveys, according to Alvey.
Solution: ‘Broaden the tax base’
While it would seem that cities can’t have better services and lower taxes at the same time, the solution is to broaden the tax base, he said, with new businesses coming here, existing businesses growing and more residents. More people paying the taxes means fewer tax dollars each person pays, he said.
For decades, people left Kansas City, Kansas, and businesses left, with tax revenues reduced, he said. Those who remained had to pay more.
“We’ve been down that road,” he said. “That’s a road of decline, that’s a road of blight, that’s a road of depopulation. We’ve been down that road. It wasn’t good.”
Residents can choose to take a road of growth or a road of decline, he said.
“That’s a crossroad as well,” he said. Residents have said through surveys and input that they don’t want to take the road of decline, he said.
Both commercial and residential contribute about equally to the property taxes of the city, he said. Tax revenues are generated across the city, he said, with opportunities all across the city.
He said people ask him why the UG gives incentives to companies to locate here.
“The simple answer is because it works,” Alvey said.
In 2002 the Legends and Village West produced total tax revenues of $213,000. By 2019, it was producing $36.2 million in taxes, with $24.2 million from property tax and $12 million from sales tax, he said.
“That happened because of STAR (sales tax revenue) bonds,” he said. “Why did we offer STAR bonds? Because they worked for us.”
The UG also uses industrial revenue bonds as an economic development tool. It helps pays for the building construction and equipment. He showed a slide listing five major projects that would add millions to the tax revenues when the bonds are paid off.
New projects to bring in additional tax revenues
As examples of growing infrastructure, Alvey said the Turner Diagonal project will bring in thousands of jobs, and eventually will bring in additional property taxes.
The old Indian Springs site, Scavuzzo’s KC Foodie Park, will add 140 jobs in a food distribution center and will bring in offices and restaurants to the site in a $140 million development, he said.
The American Royal development at 118th and State will build new facilities in a $250 million complex, bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the area, staying at hotels, shopping here and building up tax revenues, while allowing the city to provide more services and reducing the property tax burden for residents, he said. On the north side will be an office park.
A new Menard’s store on 98th north of State Avenue probably will generate about a million dollars a year in sales tax revenues, he said.
“We do economic development deals because it works for us,” he said.
Problems still need to be addressed
But there are some serious problems in parts of the community, he said. There are too many vacated properties, he said. Generally, the lots aren’t paying any taxes, but services still have to be provided to the area, he said.
The UG is mowing lawns about three times a year on vacant lots, of which the city has around 4,000, and it has been demolishing homes that are beyond repair, according to Alvey.
An empty structure brings a higher incidence of violent crime around it, and other properties around it are valued less, according to studies, he said.
Renovation has been raising property values
By encouraging remodeling, including Land Bank remodeling, the UG has helped raise the value of those blighted properties and the homes around it, he said.
Through the UG Land Bank, there have been about 53 homes formerly on the tax delinquent list that have been remodeled, and those homes’ values were dramatically raised, in some cases going from about $20,000 to $100,000 or more. There also have been private renovation projects.
The effect of this renovation throughout the city is to increase property values, he said. There was an average 8 percent increase in valuations in the appraisal notices that went out last week.
“That’s a good thing,” Mayor Alvey said. “If property values are declining, that means a city is dying. We’ve been down that road. We can’t afford to go back.”
The appraiser’s office is using market data to set the appraisals.
“People are responding to the improvements they’re seeing, and they want to buy in,” he said.
The UG also is going after those who won’t pay taxes, he said. The UG went from 7,156 delinquent properties in 2016 to 3,863, he said.
Quality of life issues
If the city improves the tax base but not the quality of life, what’s the point of it, he asked.
He said the recent citizen survey indicated more satisfaction with cleanup, mowing, and maintenance of property.
People who have lived here a long time, still see problems, he said, but people who are coming in, are noticing improvements.
The survey also showed that residents wanted to work most on cleanup of trash and junk citywide; mowing and trimming of weeds on vacant and private property citywide; cleanup of junk, trash and debris in neighborhoods; and maintenance of residential property in neighborhoods, he said.
“We’re not done yet; there’s so much more to do,” Mayor Alvey said.
There were 311 sites across the city that were illegal dumping sites, he said. Recently, the city picked up 811 old tires around the city.
“If you see someone you suspect is dumping illegally,” he said, “get a picture of them and send it to us.”
If there is a conviction, the UG will pay a reward, he added.
The UG also added a second property abatement team this year, he said, more than doubling the number of properties abated.
The UG has spent $1.7 million in taking down blighted buildings and mowing vacant lots, he said, and much of it is from sales tax funds.
Mayor Alvey said the UG has filled about 9,000 potholes in January and February, using new asphalt equipment.
In addition, the mayor helped launch an Adopt-a-Spot program cleaning up local parks and streets. So far, 37 places have been adopted, with 98 more available. He urged people to pick up trash when they see it.
The UG is also addressing stormwater problems, and has 2,000 work orders out for projects, he said.
“We have to spend what we need to spend to fix these problems,” he said. “If I don’t fix the roof on my house and it starts to leak, next year I’m paying not only to fix the roof, but to fix the drywall and floor as well.”
Mayor Alvey also cited a new program to reduce crime, using data in targeted areas, citing the Central Avenue area as one of the places where it was implemented. In addition, he said there is a new police crime analysis unit and new license plate readers used to catch stolen vehicles. The UG also is installing body cameras, community cameras and in-car cameras, he said.
The UG also has invested in three new aerials and four new pumpers for the Fire Department, as well as equipment for cleaning gear, he said.
‘Road to growth’
“We can take a road to growth, we can take a road to improving the quality of life, or we can take the other road,” Mayor Alvey said. “We’ve done it already. We can take a road to blight, to decay, to increased crime, to people leaving, to businesses closing. How did that work for us? It simply goes nowhere.”
He asked residents to continue paying their taxes, to watch the UG Commission’s meetings, to communicate with the UG, to report illegal dumping and to pick up trash.
“Neighborhoods are the heart of Kansas City, Kansas,” he said. He encouraged people to get involved in their neighborhoods.
He also encouraged people to participate in the census and to encourage their neighbors to fill it out. The UG’s federal funds depend on it, he said. The census also determines the county’s representation in Congress.
Meeting with residents
After the mayor’s presentation, residents had the opportunity to meet with representatives of Unified Government offices, including mayor’s office, police, Sheriff’s, appraiser’s, public works, code enforcement, animal services, economic development, Livable Neighborhoods, parks and recreation, and planning and zoning. The Board of Public Utilities also was represented.
Commissioners Angela Markley, Tom Burroughs and Christian Ramirez were in attendance, along with Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools board member Janey Humphries and Board of Public Utilities General Manager Bill Johnson.
‘Wyandotte County is moving in the right direction’
“I commend the mayor for hosting these community meetings,” Commissioner Burroughs said.
Commissioner Burroughs, 2nd District at large, said he attended to support the mayor and also the results of the citizen survey.
While there are challenges ahead, the tide has turned and the mayor and commission are not afraid to face challenges, he said.
“Wyandotte County is moving in the right direction,” Commissioner Burroughs said. “Property values are increasing and people want to be here.”
People should take pride in the growth, he said.
During the meeting, Mayor Alvey also expressed his sadness about the fire at St. John the Divine Church at 25th and Metropolitan on Tuesday night.
“We need to find a way to continue to sustain the Mexican heritage in our community,” he said. “It continues to be important.”
While he understands that the building was a decaying structure, it is important to celebrate the heritage of Mexican-American citizens, he said.
Mayor Alvey has scheduled other “KCK at a Crossroads” community meetings throughout the community.
The remainder of the meetings: March 10 – Bethany Community Center, 1120 Central Ave., Kansas City, Kansas; March 24 – Northwest Middle School, 2400 N. 18th St., Kansas City, Kansas; April 7 – Patricia “Diane” Kane Community Center, 3130 N. 122nd St., Kansas City, Kansas; and April 21 – USD 500 headquarters, 2010 N. 59th St., Kansas City, Kansas.