A Jackson County Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday that transit advocates can proceed with a series of elections seeking public support for Kansas City streetcar expansion.
Judge J. Dale Youngs said petitions seeking to create a transportation development district to support streetcar expansion were legally filed and were not unconstitutional. He also found that the proposed streetcar taxing district would not pose an undue burden on property owners and was not unjust or unreasonable.
But the streetcar expansion is still a long way from becoming reality. The judge’s decision just sets in motion a series of elections, beginning in 2017, that will solicit voter approval to actually create the taxing district and impose the increased taxes to build the expanded streetcar route.
“We are very pleased that voters will have a say starting in 2017,” said David Johnson, who helped spearhead the petition effort.
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“We’re gratified that the court found the petition to be consistent with the statute,” Doug Stone, attorney for the petitioners, said Wednesday. “We look forward to the time when the voters of the district will have their voices heard.”
The order was prompted by a petition filed by 50 residents seeking to expand the downtown streetcar system, which now runs from River Market to Union Station. The expansion would take the streetcar 3.75 miles farther south on Main Street to 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard, near the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
The expanded system would cost an estimated $227 million to build, and supporters are counting on about half that money coming from the federal government. The local match would be funded with a combination of a 1-cent sales tax within a set district boundary, plus special property tax assessments for properties within one-third of a mile of the route.
Those property owners would be taxed for 25 years because they would be expected to garner the greatest benefits from proximity to the streetcar.
The elections would not be held citywide, but would be open to voters living within the proposed district boundaries, running generally from the Missouri River to about 53rd Street and from State Line Road roughly to Campbell Street. The entire process would take three elections.
Proponents initially hoped the first election could be held late this year. But they postponed that timetable until after April 4, when the City Council plans a major citywide infrastructure bond issue election.
So now, the first streetcar mail-in ballot election is expected to take place between May and July. If voters approve the new streetcar district, an election would occur in September 2017 at polling places, to elect board members for the new taxing district.
Finally, there would be another mail-in election between November 2017 and January 2018 to actually approve the taxes for the new streetcar district.
Even if all those approvals occur, an expanded streetcar route isn’t expected to open until 2023 at the earliest, because of the lengthy design, construction and vehicle procurement process.