KC City Council General Election is June 18, 2019

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Development and Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

It often seems that in KC politics, you either have to be for development or against development. If you even mention the idea of showing some restraint in giving tax breaks or other incentives to big, outside developers, that you are somehow trying to restrict the growth of our city. Let me state clearly, I am NOT opposed to using incentives to generate development and re-development. But I will also never waiver on my belief that economic development tools, such as TIF, need to be used in the ways they were originally intended.

Many people have heard of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), usually in a news story either applauding it’s use or criticizing it. The fact is, this tool was originally conceived to help spur projects in blighted areas that otherwise would not see those projects come to fruition. That sounds like a great idea, and it was. But over the last fifteen years, our use of TIF has become so widespread, that we have created an expectation by developers, often from out-of-town, that every proposal they bring will get these incentives. 

Not only are they expecting these incentives, but the developers are now the ones driving our development plans. TIF and tools like it, were meant to be used by the City to determine where they were most needed, not to award contracts in already well-developed and thriving areas.

We have seen projects proposed and approved in areas clearly not blighted, while investment in truly needed areas is still the exception.

Not only is the City Council ignoring the intention and purpose of TIF, but they are also affecting institutions like our public schools, who make their budget projections based on an expectation of increased tax revenues. If a project is awarded a TIF with 100% abatement for say 20 years, then that plot of land will only return to the city the same amount it already was getting for the next 20 years. Do expenses stay the same for twenty years? No, not usually. So in the end our public institutions that rely on property and sales taxes will be forced to do more with less. And this repeats itself with every new project approved.

We have to be smarter in our development thinking. This doesn’t mean becoming “Closed for Business,” but it does mean that every proposal must be scrutinized and evaluated by objective people, and judged against a truly fair criteria to ensure that growth is occurring in the places most in need.

Affordable Housing

If you just read my views on development and incentives above, then you already have a good feel for the criteria that I will use to judge the viability and benefits of proposals that come across my desk. When it comes to the topic of affordable housing, we are playing catch-up because of the decisions of the City Council in the past. It’s clear by the use of TIF in the past few years, that apartment and housing projects that are “market rate” projects have gotten the most love from the Council. We are creating a scene out of medieval times, with the rich enclaves being staffed by the serfs, or in our case the bartenders, baristas, hotel workers, and so on that can’t afford to live where they work. 

Now I am fine with the private marketplace doing what it is built to do, namely allowing an owner of a building or plot of land to sell to another person, and that person renting out apartments for whatever he or she feels like. But not if that project is getting taxpayer-financed incentives. Not at this point in our city’s development. It’s time we seek out and approve proposals for projects that will serve the needs of those doing all the serving.

Surely, we can agree that we’re still trying to fix decades of segregation from the mistakes of the past, so why would we knowingly create a whole new segregation for the future?

Basic Services and Infrastructure

How are your sidewalks these days? How did that snow removal in November go for you?

Well if you’re like a lot of citizens you are still waiting for your sidewalks to be repaired after we voted for that $800M Go Bond package a year and a half ago. And if you tried to get to work that Monday morning after the snow, then you likely are still screaming about the mess it was. Well sadly, as much as we have big, shiny projects to celebrate we have just as much neglect of our infrastructure and delivery of basic services to fix.

I refuse to accept that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time in this city. The City Council has oversight and investigative authority over the actions of the City Manager and the various departments of government.

I, for one, will not let those powers be wasted. I will ensure that money the taxpayers have approved for sidewalks and streets is being used for sidewalks and streets.

I will not let misappropriation of funds to occur, and will never make excuses when failures like November’s snow removal occur. We cannot keep deferring infrastructure repairs and construction. Our sewers are deficient, our waterways are prone to flooding, and we have construction projects that seem to never end. Not to mention we have the issue of the Buck O’Neill Bridge, which is in fact a state-owned bridge, that the state of Missouri is now saying it can’t afford to replace. We need to exhaust all our resources, and I am willing to work with the State, but if it expects KC to foot the bill or even a substantial portion, I will call for legal action, if necessary, to ensure that the State does what it is supposed to do.

Mental Health, Social Services, and Crime

You may be wondering why these items are grouped together like this. Does every person with a mental health issue commit a crime? Absolutely not. Does everyone who relies on social services have a mental health issue? No, of course not. But what they all have in common is that they are issues that require a truly holistic approach to solve. In addition, these are issues that touch all of our lives in one way or another, and as such not working together to find solutions is something we will all need to take blame for.

We can’t sit back and say that what happens in other parts of our city is not our concern or doesn’t directly affect us. Not having good policies in place to deal with these issues means more and more tax dollars being wasted. That affects all of us. Not only that, but if we want to continue our growth as a city, we can’t ignore the impact these issues have on that growth.

Too often we hear on the news about the latest homicide and while we take notice, we quickly move on to other things. The fact that one person has taken another’s life should never be something we just causally acknowledge and then go about our day. The same can be said for the growing epidemic of mental health issues in our city and across the country. Opiod addiction, suicides, depression and anxiety, all on the rise. Why? Well there’s a lot of reasons and some beyond the ability of a community to solve. But some causes can in fact be attributed to the decisions we make as a community when dealing with these challenges.

We need to realize that economic anxiety, lack of quality education, crumbling streets, dilapidated buildings, and a general lack of hope for a better life, are all things that people across our entire city face everyday. We need to enact policies that address these disparities in opportunity, and we need to ensure that we are properly funding and executing services that support our fellow citizens when these crises occur. 

As for crime in our city, there is no doubt that homicides and violent offenses make the headlines. But what we need to understand about this is that while tragic, homicide is not the primary indicator of a city’s overall crime situation. Many homicides are committed by people that know their victims and as such they are not random acts. They may occur due to mental health issues, or situations that escalated, or a failure to resolve differences in a non-violent way. And sometimes it really is as simple as bad people do bad things.

But we have had many blue ribbon panels to study the issue, and it always comes back to the same things. We need to bring real life opportunity to all of our citizens. We need to have those social and mental health services at the ready. We need to do a better job of teaching our youth that there are better ways to resolve conflict than with violence. And we need to reset the relationship between law enforcement and citizens. So let’s stop commissioning panels and actually do the work we know needs to be done.

Streetcar and Transportation

I will state for the record that I was not a supporter of the initial KC Streetcar project. My issue was not with the idea of a new and robust transit plan for the city, rather it was the processes used to get the votes passed, and the claims being made by the proponents of the plan.

I never saw a genuine research study done to see if we could be more future-proof in our transit by utilizing electric and natural gas buses that could be routed based on the changing needs of the population being served. And I say being served, because public transit, first and foremost, should exist to offer the most expansive and efficient means of movement around our city for those who need it the most. Instead, we chose to build tracks and overhead cables, at a cost of about $56M per net mile for the 2.2-mile route.

That is a huge number. We could have bought dozens of electric buses and charging stations and have a fleet of modern people movers, designed to look like spaceships if we wanted, able to be used anywhere around the city.

But we didn’t. And so while I still to this day have serious issues with the way our city government failed to have a true lack of imagination, and for how it did all it could to get the result it wanted without true debate and analysis, I support making the best of what has happened. I still believe we need a flexible transit system that can adapt to the needs of our citizens. And if fixed-transit such as the streetcar really does promote economic development, like its proponents say it does, then I want to see streetcar proposals that truly benefit those most economically disadvantaged. And I want the process to be open, honest, and truly democratic in nature. Our transit users, and those that pay for it, deserve that much.

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