KC voters approve funding for downtown streetcars

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Voters in a special district have approved tax hikes to fund a $100 million streetcar route through two miles of downtown Kansas City in what supporters hope is the first leg of a more extensive public rail system, according to election officials.

Voters approved a 1-cent sales tax increase and property tax increases to help pay for the streetcars, which will run from the River Market area to Union Station, The Kansas City Star reported.

Only those in the boundaries of the streetcar district will pay the tax increases, which were authorized for 25 years by a mail-in vote involving registered voters in the district.

The city hopes to begin construction of the system next year and start running the streetcars in 2015.

Supporters have always said they plan to push to make the two-mile route the first leg of a more extensive system of streetcars.

“It will be historic,” Mayor Sly James said. “This is only a beginning.”

Many major property owners in the district opposed the election because they will have to pay the taxes even though they don’t live downtown and didn’t get to a vote. They wanted the entire city to vote on the plan.

Sue Burke, who owns an air filter business in River Market but doesn’t live in the streetcar district, said Wednesday’s vote was a “rigged, phony election.”

She said many people who supported the tax are renters who can move, while landlords and business owners are “stuck paying for something long after the people who voted for it are gone.”

Supporters said downtown property owners should help pay for the system because they will be the main beneficiaries of the streetcars.

The 1-cent sales tax increase will take effect next spring. The property taxes, which come due late next year, include a commercial assessment of 48 cents per $100 of assessed value and residential assessment of 70 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The city has received about $18 million in federal grants and is expected to receive about $4.5 million in water utility contributions toward the construction cost. The city has pledged to contribute $2 million annually for the system. Other funds will come from parking fees and advertising revenues.

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