The Kansas City Council appeared close Wednesday to agreement on Kansas City International Airport ballot language, which must be adopted Thursday to seek voter approval Nov. 7 for a new terminal building at the airport.
And a selection committee that is reviewing four proposals to build and finance that new terminal expects to announce its top choice at the City Council meeting Aug. 31.
Both the ballot language and the project selection process have been fraught with debate and political wrangling, but council members said Wednesday they are making progress.
The council tried but failed last week to adopt ballot language to take to voters. Councilwoman Katheryn Shields has proposed a measure that would authorize airport revenue bonds, which is the traditional and probably cheapest financing method for a new airport terminal.
But the four proposals to actually build the new terminal focus on private financing approaches that the companies say would allow for faster and less expensive construction than public bonds.
So Councilwoman Jolie Justus had proposed alternate language that just seeks a new airport terminal paid for by airport revenues, without using airport bonds. Polling has suggested that would stand a better chance of passage in the November election.
The council split and couldn’t agree last week to support Justus’ language.
Councilman Jermaine Reed pushed for a compromise, and on Wednesday, he shared language that has been vetted by the city’s bond counsel. A spokesman for Mayor Sly James said he had no comment yet on the compromise language. Shields also had not yet made up her mind.
But Justus said she could live with it. Reed said it appeared a solid majority of the 13-member council could support it Thursday. Reed and other council members earlier had worried that a 7-6 vote on ballot language would make it hard to rally the public behind the airport project, which already is a divisive issue with many in the community.
The proposed ballot language seeks voter support to allow Kansas City to construct a new passenger terminal at KCI and demolish existing terminals as necessary, with all costs paid solely from money derived from the city’s airports and related facilities “and without the issuance of general airport revenue bonds unless such general airport revenues bonds have received prior voter approval.”
While some council members thought mention of airport revenue bonds was superfluous, others were relieved that it leaves the door open for future airport revenue bonds if that is truly the best way to pay for the improvements. The main thing is for voters to realize that no taxpayer dollars are involved, since airport revenues come from passengers and other airport users.
The council must decide on something by Thursday, because that’s the last regular meeting to meet the ballot deadline for the Nov. 7 election.
On a separate track, the city is also trying to pick the best proposal to build and finance the new terminal. It does not have to make that decision to adopt ballot language. But a selection committee has been scrutinizing the four proposals, from teams led by AECOM, Burns & McDonnell, Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate, and Jones Lang LaSalle.
Reed said Wednesday that the committee is still awaiting a comparison of the financial proposals. It is also awaiting feedback from its bond counsel, from the airlines and from reference checks. The committee is next scheduled to meet Aug. 29 for more deliberations. Reed said it should then have a conclusion and recommendation to take to the council Aug. 31. The council has the final decision.