An Ordinance, A Vote and a Complicated Ballot

By Ingram's Magazine


Last night I was able to attend a meeting of the National Association of Women in Construction.  The Kansas City chapter has grown to close to 100 members making it the largest chapter in the country.  All of the women, and a few men, in attendance received a pretty eye-opening speech from 4th district councilwoman, Jolie Justus.  As a point of transparency, Justus is also currently running for mayor of Kansas City.  

If you’re curious, Justus told the crowd the new Kansas City Airport terminal is expected to be finished in Fall of 2021.  If that’s what you came here for, awesome, you’re good to go (you could also just follow us on Twitter and have found that out last night). 

Justus is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which is overseeing the KCI Terminal Project as well as the potential expansion of the Kansas City Streetcar.  But it was talk about ordinance #180099 that got the eyes opening and hands popping up for questions.  The ordinance deals with the Minority Business Enterprise and Woman Business Enterprise certifications in Kansas City and potential changes to the requirements. 

Kansas City did its first minority disparity study in 1995 (coincidentally the same year the discussions started about renovating the airport) and adopted the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program in 1996.  Since then, the city has completed a third disparity study which has led to the proposed ordinance changes.  Right now, there’s a one-year ‘look-back’ statute meaning you have to prove you’re a business based in KC or the region for one year before you’re considered.  This ordinance proposes that the one year be reduced to 6 months.  The ordinance has also created a city-wide target goal of 14.7% MBE and 14.4% WBE.  “In the past I believe you had to choose if you were going to be WBE or MBE, they’re doing away with that.  These are some of the changes we’re going to be making and I want to make sure you’re weighing in on that,” Justus told the crowd.

So what in the world does that have to do with the airport?

Justus spelled it out:  “MBE WBE requirements were set at 35% :  20% on MBE and 15% on WBE, that was set by the City Council and not by Edgemoor.”  Edgemoor is the company that’s handling the project for the new terminal at KCI.  That’s why, according to Justus, paying attention to this ordinance is so important because it will help companies get certified.

“How are we going to make sure that folks are certified to fill those spots?  There’s concern with that, without question,” said Justus.  “Right now I’m being told that we just flat out don’t have enough people to work on this.  We’ve got a lot of work in KC.  One of the things that we need to make sure that we’re doing is networking in such a way that all the women and minority owned businesses that want to come to the table and participate in this, that they know how, #1 to get certified, and #2 let’s remove as many barriers as possible to get as many of those local WBE and MBE certified.”

The comment that drew the biggest response from the crowd is something Justus likened to ‘dropping a bomb’ on the crowd because she knows it’s controversial.  “I have had folks from the Missouri WBE community come forward to me and say you guys need to start thinking about reciprocity with other Missouri businesses.  Meaning, if you are a Missouri WBE company you should get reciprocity with KC and that would allow then KC companies to work in St. Louis and other places, and then that would allow St. Louis folks to come in here.  That is what’s happening in this ordinance conversation right now.  The ordinance is going to be one of the guiding factors.  So the answer is, possibly, but it depends on what comes out of this ordinance.”

One encouraging note Justus mentioned with regard to Edgmoor was how dependent they are on local workers.  “They also are motivated to do as much local as possible because that’s the only way this project works.  This company has projects all over the country, they’re doing a lot of work for instance in Lawrence, KS right now.  They have a project there where I believe they told us 96% of the companies are local and 91% of the workforce is local. They’re committed to doing this with a local workforce, they can’t do it otherwise, it’s impossible.”

Ingram’s Industry Outlook in January highlighted the city’s issues with workforce earlier this year.  Now, when you add KCI into the construction around downtown as well as the eventual work on the Buck O’Neil bridge, the workforce will get spread even thinner.  

Justus’ solution?  Go get involved in the ordinance.  Go talk to your city council members about what you want to see with MBE WBE and other construction issues around Kansas City and the region.  Not only that, VOTE.

On April 3rd, Kansas City residents will vote on a 1% sales tax that has been in place sine 1983 referred to as the PIAC program (Public Improvements Advisory Committe).  It’s up for renewal on April 3rd and Justus gave people at the meeting a rough outline of where the money will be spent:

–35% of the tax will continue to go to the PIAC program (one-sixth of that pot gets distributed to the 6 districts to spend as they see fit, be it neighborhood improvement or elsewhere)

–25% of the total funds go to road and bridge rehabilitation (which is now considered sidewalk to sidewalk not curb to curb)

–40% of the total funds would to go infrastructure maintenance

What’s interesting about that final 40% is Justus says $60 million will be earmarked to help build a new Buck O’Neil Bridge.  If you’re like me and take that bridge to work and home every day you know what kind if impact it would have on your commute to take that away.  That was the initial plan from the Missouri Department of Transportation, according to Justus.  “What we were told is that MODOT wanted to close the bridge for 2 years, so there would be no Broadway bridge for 2 years, and they wanted to repair the bridge during that time.  The city and all the cities around KC said that was not an option.  We can’t close that bridge for 2 years, it’s got way too many people that travel across it every day,” said Justus.

So what’s the other option?  Use tax money to rebuild it.  “It doesn’t make sense just to repair it because we really can’t solve any of the problems that the bridge has.  How many people have driven across the bridge and seen people walking precariously down that middle aisle?  It’s really not a pleasant situation to be in.  What we were able to do is convince MODOT to put $100 million in to build a new bridge, all of our municipalities around KC have offered to give up $40 million of their regional federal dollars to put toward it and then if we pass this election on April 3rd, $60 million will come from the city of KC.  And that $200 million will allow us to build a brand new bridge as opposed to just repairing one and we won’t have the 2 year closure.”

If that sounds good to you, or if that sounds bad to you, make sure you let the city know.  

April the 3rd is also an important date for the KC Streetcar and part of an unbelievably complex process to vote on a sales tax.  From right now til April 3rd, if you live in the Transportation Development District where the proposed Streetcar extension would be located, you can request a ballot.  You will get that ballot in the mail on or around May 1st.  Then, you have until June 12th at 5 pm to not only return that ballot with your signature, but it must also be notarized.  Yes, notarized.

The process is complicated but the question on the ballot was simplified by Justus at last night’s meeting.  “What we are voting on now is a 1% sales tax in that area that will fund the actual streetcar extension and then #2, whether those folks who live on 3 blocks east or west of the line, whether they will have a property assessment to also pay for it.  So that’s who pays for the streetcar extension.  It doesn’t come out of our general revenue, it doesn’t come out of anything that we’re already funding as a city, it comes out of the 1% sales tax and the property assessment for folks that live on either side.”

In case you’re wondering how to get in touch with your city council person, just click this link.   There you’ll see what committees they’re on,, what’s laid out in proposed ordinances, and most importantly how to get a hold of them and make your voice heard.  Because like Justus said, “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” 

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