Puppies May Save KC’s Bond Deal. Pavement Won’t.

For a city whose governance model is more like a lost chapter from “Catch-22,” maybe an $800 million loan isn’t a good idea.

By Jack Cashill

In 2010, activists succeeded in getting a proposition on the Missouri ballot with the title, “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.” Not surprisingly, the measure passed. At the time, I commented on KCPT’s Kansas City Week in Review that if I ever wanted to get a ballot measure approved, I would find a way to sneak the word “puppy” into the title. The City of Kansas City, Mo., may be taking me
up on my suggestion.

A day before President Trump’s inauguration, after considerable haggling, City Council members agreed on just how to spend the $800 million they are hoping to receive from the taxpayers of Kansas City. 

When the pixie dust had settled, council members set aside $450 million of those imaginary dollars for roads, $150 million for sidewalks, $150 million for flood control, $36 million for ADA improvements, and as much as $14 million for a new “state-of-the-art” animal shelter.

“We absolutely understand the love and dedication that Kansas City and Kansas Citians have to their pets,” said Mayor
Sly James. “We want to create a first-class space where pets can grow and thrive.” 

In a city whose murder rate in 2016 was just a hair under Chicago’s—one homicide per every 3,598 people in Chicago, one for every 3,743 here—taxpayers might worry more about their children growing and thriving than their pets. That said, there is no denying the political pull of puppies and the political power of puppy lovers.

The city is hoping that 57.1 percent of its voters love their pets enough to approve the bond deal in April. This will not be an easy sell. Resistance mounts as I write. 

“If the City, for any reason, cannot payback this $800,000,000 loan, bondholders can ask Kansas City, Missouri, property owners to pay what they owe for their property in full,” said watchdog group Citizens For Responsible Government in a missive to its supporters. “If the homeowners are unable to pay in full, the bondholders can legally seize our HOMES as full payment of their bonds.”

Given the tough talk of the opposition, when it gets down to crunch time, we can expect to see lots of cute little puppies mewling away on TV for a new state-of-the-art home. In this case, the tail truly will be wagging the dog. The animal shelter amounts to less than 2 percent of the total cost, but puppies may very well drive the ad buy. Do not doubt me on this one. According to Kansas City spokesman Chris Hernandez, one slogan for this initiative could be “puppies and pavement.”

Of the two, puppies will be a much easier sell. If you exclude the ’possum living under my deck, I do not currently have a pet. I do, however, have pavement—lots of it, as I live on a V-shaped corner. This should make me a likely “yes” voter, given that the city will assume the cost of sidewalk repairs that had heretofore been the responsibility of the homeowner.

But here is the rub: On the very same day that the City Council voted to put the bond issue on the April ballot, a work crew contracted by the city began laying a long stretch of concrete on my property. This was not my idea. 

A homeowner association activist who does not even live on my block decided my sidewalk and that of a neighbor needed makeovers. So she dropped a dime on us. Apparently, once an individual calls in an alarm, the city has to repair the sidewalk or face liability for it. 

The city is hoping that 57.1 percent of its voters love their pets enough to approve the bond deal in April. This will not be an easy sell. Resistance mounts as I write.

In truth, I had one offending sidewalk panel. If asked, I could have replaced it for a couple hundred bucks, but that is not how the city rolls. Without consulting me, city inspectors came to my house and dunned me for two separate stretches of sidewalk pushed up by tree roots. While they were at it, they decided my curbs could use a little cosmetic work as well. 

The first I became aware that anyone had ratted me out was when I received a work order for 10 Large. Excuse the New Jersey patois, but when faced with something this jacked-up, you find yourself wishing that the other neighbor who got dimed was Tony Soprano.

I called the city to straighten the situation out. When its staffers got around to returning my calls, they were polite enough, but they were trapped as much as I was in a conundrum that would have taxed Joseph Heller’s imagination. 

In most cases, I pointed out, the city planted the disruptive trees without asking the property owner’s permission. Yes, they conceded, that was true. When I asked if I could cut my disruptive tree down, the city said absolutely not. 

“But what,” I asked, “would prevent the tree roots from pushing up the new sidewalk?” The person responding did not even try to fake a good answer. There was none. We shared a good laugh about it.

To be fair, the guys I talked to were OK. They understood that I had been screwed. They came out to the house, and we negotiated the damage down to $5,000, but the trees remain in place. 

As it happens, The Kansas City Star asked City Manager Troy Schulte the exact same question I would have asked, “What do city officials tell people who have paid for their own sidewalks and now have to pay a property tax increase for other people’s sidewalks?” 

Said Schulte, “Unfortunately, this is an issue of the collective good.” Karl Marx could not have said it better himself, but Karl Marx ain’t getting my vote.

While my sidewalk drama was unfolding, that same HOA honcho who screwed me had somehow appropriated more than $100,000 in city money to install an utterly gratuitous traffic island at the base of my street.

The way I figure, a city that cannot spend $10,000 right, let alone $100,000, should not be let anywhere near $800 million. 

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.

One response to “Puppies May Save KC’s Bond Deal. Pavement Won’t.”

  1. Fred Wolferman says:

    As Yul Brenner used to say, “Is a puzzlement.”
    Is city government incompetent? Is government by definition incompetent? Well, of course.
    But the city is falling apart (as is the country).
    My bet is that the bond will fail — 57.1% is a very big number.
    Will that force better management of existing resources and perhaps a more modest and targeted bond proposal?
    Don’t hold your breath.
    Then there’s the airport…

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