Sunday, December 16, 2018

Waldonians deserve better than the current Wornall Village CID plan.

I used to be that person, who voted for and paid many tax increases that came up because (a) I could afford it and (b) it was going to a cause that I believed in. I still believe in certain tax increases (property tax for libraries and schools for example) because I believe those services help disadvantaged people and because there is public input and oversight on how they spend the funds they receive. For me it's the equivalent of each of us pitching in to create better living conditions for everyone.

I’ve been in the role of “neighborhood leader” or “neighborhood advocate” for quite some time now and as such I have been fortunate to meet and work closely with people who shape the future of our neighborhood. However, I’m starting to become a lot more skeptical, as I learn more and more about how these development deals are put together, about who benefits and who is impacted.

Over the years, Waldo has risen up against corporate takeover by the likes of Walmart because they were not good stewards to the disadvantaged and forced them to work 3 part time jobs with no health insurance, just to get by. Residents stood with small business owners to say that Walmart would not be a good fit for Waldo.

 As a business owner, I have served on the Waldo Area Business Association board for several years and have gotten to know many of the people that own the small businesses in Waldo. These are people who want to see our neighborhood improve, our residents happy, and our diversity grow. This board of people (that you can meet any time you are out and about) are also the “steering committee” for lack of a better word, for the Waldo CID and the two boards work very well together on everything from security to neighborhood support to beautification.

The Waldo CID, which stretches from 85th street along Wornall Road to Gregory and then along Gregory to Oak, charges a ½ cent sales tax at all of the businesses within the district. You can read more about them here-

This ½ cent sales tax pays for the security car and personnel with a public number you can call whenever you need help, a cleaning crew to pick up trash in the public right-of-way in the district and to help get graffiti cleaned up, and neighborhood events like the Waldo Fall Festival and other things like the store-front improvement grant (money to business owner to help pay for beautification projects) and the paint program to help business owners pay for painting their business (we’re hoping to see some cool murals coming soon). This CID and the board that runs it are always at our public events and easy to reach. These are the types of people I trust to handle tax-payer funds.

What I oppose is a 1% sales tax collected by property owners (and their lawyers and bankers) that I had never met face to face until yesterday when I attended the West Waldo Neighborhood Association Meeting.  Property owners (and their lawyers and bankers), who rarely got involved in what the rest of the Waldo Area Business Association was up to, are now authorized to collect a 1% sales tax and tax payers will most likely never even know and they certainly won’t know what the money is being used for.

We’ll see improvements to the area, sure, and maybe they’ll even maintain the property now, we can hope. But beyond that, beyond the $6-$8 million that we’ll be paying for these improvements, we’ll never know. And let’s talk about those improvements too because we won't have a say in how much they contract the work for, the quality of the materials or whether they hire a family friend at above-market-rates and even if we do find out later that they did, there would be nothing to stop them from it because there are no rules or oversight for single-owner CIDs.

The Tutera Group is asking you to take them at their word that they will “do the right thing” but there are no promises being made and no ramifications for misuse.

Read Nicole Galloway's report on the Ward Parkway CID-

I have to stop here for just a minute because I wanted to give a shout out to Amy Stock, the President of the West Waldo Neighborhood Association who put the meeting together. I’m grateful that she did and that our neighborhood association was able to broadcast that meeting to our neighbors. It is hard to be where this group is right now, trying to organize interested people to help advocate for their neighborhood on issues just like this one. They need more people to help, to jump in and form a real board of vested residents and no matter where you are at on this issue, if you live within their boundary, I really hope you will get involved!

The meeting was well attended and heated at times because many residents feel like they are being put over a barrel: Pay for the improvements or never see the improvements. That doesn’t seem like a fair ask and many people are rightfully upset.

From my perspective, this project is part of a much larger discussion and that is at what point do we draw the line? The rapid-fire set up of this CID proves that council is moving much too fast and not following up on the information that is given. It was shown several times through this process that the developer and property owners were telling a lot of different stories.

 Since many people couldn’t make it to the meeting, and because there are already conflicting reports about the discussion, I’ll place an audio recording that I took right here so you can listen for yourself. I would recommend downloading it to play with your audio player so you can skip around.

At about 42 minutes in there is a lot of talk about how the CID will serve to pay the loan and potentially the entire project over the course of the 20 years,with a 6%-7% estimated profit margin and when they talked about whether it would end once the loan was paid off, I specifically asked him if he could guarantee that it would end in 20 years or less and he said “No”.

I have protested a few projects at City Hall before and I happen to know that our elected officials are regular people who are capable of making mistakes. Their job is to seem like they are in control, but many of them rely on office staff and attorneys to work out the finer details.

Citizens have gotten used to trusting elected officials in power and blindly assume that they are protected from bad deals like this when in truth, many of the “i”s are not dotted and the “t”s are not crossed and we are the ones left holding the bag.

And is it any wonder? I mean just talk to the people getting off of the bus and you'll find that many people are struggling to get by, working full-time or several part-time jobs and don't have time to follow an ordinance through the various meetings and processes to advocate for themselves at City Hall, yet they are the ones being asked to increase their grocery bill.

I’ve written in my last blog post at how many mistakes were made along the way and this is just ONE CID in Waldo. -

Hundreds of CIDs are being formed across Missouri and even more across the Nation. When do we stop?

I can’t be who I am and not say something or do everything in my power to let people know that their money is going in to a dark hole and if you believe that we have a personal responsibility to know what our money is being used for, then you might agree that others who will be affected by these taxing districts will not even know (a) why their bill is going up and (b) how to find a better alternative.

I mean, we are talking about driving a certain population away from our special shopping districts after all. Even if the 1% tax doesn’t affect WIC or other government aid, many disadvantaged people are hovering right above the national poverty line who don’t qualify and will most certainly feel the pain of adding 1% more to their bill. I personally don’t want to be complicit in taxation without representation. Waldonians deserve better than the current plan.

If you are a Kansas City Missouri voter and believe that voters should get to choose whether to pay a 1% tax to a private company for 20+ years with no oversight, please help us get this issue on the ballot and come sign our petition.

We’ll be at the Waldo Public Library today from 1pm to 4pm and tomorrow (December 17th) from 5pm to 8pm. We also need helpers to collect signatures with multiple events being planned, please email to join the team.

We have 30 days and need as many people as possible.

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