Platte County officials say need remains, opponents say tax should be revamped or cut
In April 2003, Platte County voters approved a three-eighths cent sales tax aimed at funding an ambitious Roads Master Plan. The measure passed by a sizable 58-42 percent margin and was embraced by municipalities and road districts from one end of the County to the other.
Platte County officials are hopeful that a renewal of the roads tax, which will appear on the April 2 ballot, receives similar voter approval. They have in recent weeks spoken to various municipal and civic groups illustrating not only the massive improvements the first 10 years of roads tax revenues have funded, but a continued need for the tax, which is set to expire in September.
“This gives voters the opportunity to extend the roads tax to finish roads projects not completed and to also address bridges that need to be repaired or replaced,” Platte County 2nd District Commissioner Duane Soper said. There is no doubt improvements funded by the roads tax the past decade have changed the County’s transportation system landscape. More than $51 million was generated and split 50-50 between Platte County municipalities and the County and most area road districts. More than 50 major projects were completed such as a massive Barry Road/Interstate 29 intersection renovation and widening of Barry Road west from the intersection and renovations to the Runninghorse Road corridor in Platte City. Numerous County roads have received renovations and upgrades from gravel to asphalt. Twenty-two County bridges rated as either deficient or obsolete were replaced or renovated/rehabilitated. Prominent examples include the replacements of the 9 Highway Bridge in Parkville and the Thomas Street Bridge in Weston.
County officials said such improvements have spurred economic development in the County and the success of such developments as Zona Rosa, Tiffany Market and other areas seem to affirm those statements.
Those same County officials also say that a renewal of the tax is needed to not only continue making long overdue transportation improvements, but to help the County, cities and road districts keep up with maintenance on the new infrastructure.
Platte County Public Works Director Greg Sager, who recommended placing the roads tax renewal on the April ballot, said over 25 percent of the County’s 56 bridges are still “either functionally or structurally deficient or obsolete.”
“While Platte County’s transportation system is in relatively good condition, without significant maintenance and repairs, our road and bridge infrastructure cannot keep pace with the growing demands our citizens, emergency responders, commerce and law enforcement require 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Sager said. “Our transportation system is the single largest asset of the County and capital outlays are needed to maintain existing conditions.”
According to County projections, a renewal of the tax will result in roughly $60 million in revenues over the next 10 years, to be split once again evenly between cities and the County/area road districts. Sager said the County’s estimated $30 million would be used to replace 16 bridges, including two on Dye Store Road, Jowler Creek Road, Walker Road, Settle Station Road, Stanton Road, Sharp Station West, County Line Road South, Lamar Road, River Road, Kirk’s Bottom Road, Brown Road, County Line Road North, N. Bluff Road, Lanter Lane and Bee Creek Boulevard. Several major roadway projects would be funded, including widening Highway 45 all the way to Interstate 435 in southern Platte County and renovating Interurban Road — Platte County’s longest continuous road — from the Platte River to Dearborn. More than 35 other County roads — from Edgerton all the way to Parkville — are also targeted for improvements.
Sager also said the County’s portion of the roads tax revenues would fund approximately $8 million in maintenance/annual operations support to complement existing tax levy revenues of the County’s Public Works and the Farley, Weston, Platte City and Parkville Special Road districts.
“Current revenues from individual levies alone will not be enough to maintain the added infrastructure,” Sager said. “If the roads tax is not renewed, County residents will not see the same level of transportation system services.”
The cities’ $30 million portion is estimated at $21 million after deducting $9 million in projected Tax Increment Financing payments — $7.5 million, Kansas City; $958,000, Parkville and $500,000, Riverside. Cities’ actual funding is based on per-capita population figures from the 2010 census. For instance, Kansas City would receive about $12 million, Platte City would receive about $2.1 million and Weston $762,000.
However, despite the many recognized improvements and benefits the roads tax has brought the County, there is some opposition to its renewal, including among the County Commission itself.
During a sometimes testy and lengthy discussion in January, the Commissioners voted 2-1 to place the tax renewal question on the ballot, along with a question to authorize the County to issue $20 million in bonds to back future transportation improvements. Soper and 1st District Commissioner Beverlee Roper, who were both elected in November, favored placing the renewal issue — without changes —before voters. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown voted against the measure because he said he favored changing the language on the question to allow the County to use some roads tax revenues to pay for a controversial, federally-mandated $11 million public radio system upgrade. Roper and Soper disagreed.
“This (radio upgrade) issue came out in 2004,” Soper said at the January meeting. “While the County has not taken care of (funding it), cities have taken care of their radio purchases. Why should they have to support a radio tax in order to get the roads improvements?”
Brown said Tuesday that his position on the issue has not changed.
“My preference would have been for (paying for) radio infrastructure to be included (in the ballot question),” he said. “I’m trying my best not to be running around talking about one side of this issue or the other. I respectfully disagree with the position of the other two Commissioners and some other folks who don’t want to see the roads tax cut in any way.”
The radio system upgrade was also a point of contention for some political groups opposed to the roads tax renewal, including the Platte County Republican Central Committee. Co-chair Jacque Cox said at the Commission’s January meeting that the group did not support the roads tax renewal, and she also insinuated that the Commission planned to place a new tax on the ballot in August to fund the radio system upgrade. Cox declined comment for this story. While the Commission has held some discussion on how to pay for the radio system upgrade — including a possible law enforcement tax — no firm decision has been made or vote taken. Brown has repeatedly stated that he will not support any “new tax to pay for radios.”
In addition to the opposition to taxes, either renewed or new, other reasons for opposition have surfaced. Critics say that the roads tax makes Platte County’s overall sales tax one of the highest in the region and that some projects which were promised for completion have not been. County officials say the primary reason for that is because the initial tax revenues projection of $65 million over 10 years has fallen far short, due to a faltering economy and other factors, including the failure to deduct the aforementioned TIF payments in revenue projections.
Platte City resident Steve Wegner — a former Platte County Commissioner who was instrumental in formulating the Roads Master plan and getting the roads tax on the ballot and subsequently approved in 2003 — said while he supports the need for a roads tax in general, he had two issues with the tax renewal as planned.
“There has been a lack of planning and public input,” he said. “In fairness to the current Commission, they did not have time to do what we did (in 2003). This process should have been started with the prior Commission. They need to take a look at the past 10 years, get some input and polish the plan.”
Wegner also said the roads tax was never meant to fund transportation system maintenance issues.
“Road districts have their own levies for that,” he said. “I’m very proud of the work that was done on the roads tax and think it’s still a need, but there has been a lack of planning this time around.”
Soper said the current Commission that took office in January had precious little time to analyze the situation and make a decision about placing it on the ballot, the deadline for which was the end of January.
“We had three weeks to look at this and decide to move forward with it,” he said.
Another point of concern for County officials if the roads tax renewal does not pass is a loss of use tax revenues generated by the roads tax. Use tax revenues are not collected by the County at the point of sale, but are distributed to the County later. A use tax is assessed upon tangible personal property purchased by a resident of the assessing state for use, storage or consumption in that state (not for resale), regardless of where the purchase took place. If a resident of a state makes a purchase within his home state, full sales tax is paid at the time of the transaction. The use tax applies when a resident of the assessing state purchases an item that is not subject to his home state’s sales tax. Usually, this is due to out-of-state purchases, as well as ordering items through the mail, by phone or over the Internet from other states.
Estimates show that if renewed, the roads tax could lead to more than $10 million in use tax revenues. The roads tax has generated roughly that during its existence and the County has funneled that money into the general fund. County officials including Brown and Soper acknowledge that the County relies on those use tax revenues. “The bottom line is that the County has to address core issues and this is about as core as it gets,” Soper said. “I think asking the people to vote on it now is the right thing to do — ultimately, they will decide on whether they want to continue making improvements to our roads.”