Public safety over parking lots, Platte Co. commissioners say

Platte County commissioners have no plans to tap into law enforcement funding to bail out county-backed bonds that paid for construction of parking garages a decade ago in the troubled Zona Rosa shopping district.

Commissioners spoke out about this at the Monday, June 4 regular administrative session.

“Recently there was a downgrade of the Zona Rosa bond rating,” said presiding commissioner Ron Schieber. “We agree with the rating — at least in principle— but one of the items in the bond rating report concerned me. It had to do with possible ways the commission might be considering making up any shortfall.

“I’m going to just publicly state that there was a hint in there that it could possibly be through cost reductions in law enforcement. Law enforcement is a basic, fundamental function of county government. It is unacceptable to this commission and it is not on the table that law enforcement cuts would be used to fund any kind of parking lot shortfall.”

The rating downgrade — from AA- to A — was issued by Standard and Poor’s on Friday, May 18, and came in response to the recent financial woes of the shopping district.

Late last year, for the first time since it opened in 2004, Zona Rosa’s owner Olshan Properties, of New York, N.Y. failed to make a bond payment. Earlier this year, the mortgage went into default.

During its initial development and 2007 expansion, road work in and around Zona Rosa was funded through a Transportation Development District, TDD. While the original TDD funding was created through an agreement with the City of Kansas City, in 2007 Platte County joined in as well on a two-to-one vote of the then-commission. This has brought Platte County into a tight place, as it backed the bonds paying for construction of the parking garages, and could be stuck paying for them.

Commissioners are still looking at options for doing this, but have taken law enforcement cuts off the table.

District commissioners Dagmar Wood and John Elliott echoed Schieber’s statement.

“This commission is in no way supportive of sacrificing our community’s public safety at the altar of development welfare loopholes that purposely bypass a vote of the public,” Wood said.

In February, S&P warned that a downgrade of the infrastructure bonds was forthcoming, due to the “relatively weak relationship between the financed project and the county’s basic functions.” 

Over the last few months, the commissioners have put several ordinances into place prohibiting future commissions from utilizing legal loopholes to enter into similar public-private partnerships.

The sales tax income from the first half of the year covered the June TDD bond payment, but commissioners anticipate a more than $600,000 shortfall for the December bond payment.