Belton’s water pipes need to be replaced.
Some are more than 100 years old. They are corroded and breaking, causing leaks that waste expensive water that all water users pay for. This can has been kicked down the road far too long.
But replacing pipes costs money. Until now, the money has come from increasing water rates.
When I became mayor, I immediately created a task force of citizens and council members to study alternatives to funding the pipe replacement from water rates alone. The task force’s efforts led to what I see as a practical solution, issuing bonds paid for by maintaining the sales tax for capital improvements at the current level. New pipes, but no new taxes. We chose the sales tax option because it would not raise water rates and about 20-25 percent of the people paying the sales tax are not residents of the city of Belton so it puts less burden on the citizens as well.
Thus, on April 5, Belton citizens have a choice to vote yes for a bond issue to pay for the replacements from the current level of water fees (Question 2 on the ballot) and to vote yes to maintaining the current level of sales tax (Question 3 on the ballot) to help pay for the pipes.
To be clear, yes votes wouldn’t increase taxes, just continue the current 0.5 percent portion of the sales tax earmarked for capital improvements that is set to expire in 2027.
Lower Costs, Low Rates
Moreover, using bond financing would guarantee that the work would be completed in just four to five years at current costs and the current historically low interest rates. In contrast, continuing to fund the replacement from fees on an ongoing basis would take years if not decades with no commitment that the job would ever get done while costs would continue to rise year after year.
The proposal also includes adding another water tower in the part of Belton east of Interstate 49. This would increase water pressure in that area and give us the ability to make a new connection to the Kansas City water system to maintain reliability.
For those who think our taxes are too high to begin with, I understand that, but there are just as many who think our water rates are too high. I know myself that I would rather bite the bullet to get the job done now, especially if that can be done by simply maintaining taxes at the current levels instead of paying higher water bills.
New Source, Greater Costs
One idea that keeps coming up is whether Belton should seek a new source of water to lower costs. Belton has always had issues with sourcing water as anyone looking at the city’s 150 years of history can see. Indeed, when the wells gave out in the 1940s, the city was forced to truck water in from Jackson County until the current pipes to Kansas City were installed. And all the proposals through the years for Belton to build its own lake were rejected.
While finding a new source of water appeals as an apparent easy solution to reduce costs, the reality is that it would cost millions and millions of dollars to lay new pipes to connect to a new source, and in the end, we would still be beholden to the charges from the new supplier.
Thus, our overall costs would actually be higher. That said, I will always be open to any ideas for new sources as long as they are economical.
More Repaired Streets, No New Taxes
Question 1 on the ballot is for voters to approve $21 million in bonds to improve Belton’s streets. This would enable Belton to reconstruct 20 more miles of streets and repair 90,000 more feet of curbs after the city’s successful work on 17 miles and 48,000 feet of curbs in the past few years. The city would also be able to add 115 sidewalk ramps, increasing our compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The bonds would be paid from the city’s current debt service levy and, thus, would not require a tax increase.
Leveling the Playing Field for Local Businesses
Right now, businesses based in Belton collect the city’s 3.25 percent sales tax. Online sellers that do not have physical locations in Missouri don’t. I think it is time for us to level the playing field, especially as it would help our local businesses to compete more fairly.
Question 4 on the ballot asks voters to approve a local use tax at the same rate as the city’s local sales tax. This tax would be applied to online purchases and out-of-state purchases delivered to Belton and would not be in addition to the sales tax. You would pay one or the other, never both.
If you do not buy online, this would not affect you at all. Even if you buy a small amount online, the effect would minimal. A large part of the lost revenue is because big businesses that buy products out of state and ship them into Belton for their projects are not paying any tax on these products.
In authorizing a use tax, the state legislature left it up to the voters in each jurisdiction to approve use taxes rather than automatically extending to all jurisdictions. The state and county have already adopted a use tax. The cities of Raymore, Peculiar, Grandview, Lee’s Summit and Kansas City all have adopted use taxes. I believe it is time for Belton to approve a use tax.
City staff estimate that a use tax would raise $1.9 million a year in additional revenue, which could pay for a lot of improvements. The council has not made any final decisions on how the funds would be spent, but some ideas include helping Belton to pay for its share of widening I-49 (Raymore has already earmarked funds for this); ongoing street and stormwater projects; expanding the sidewalk grant program (homeowner pays for the concrete and the city pays for the labor); and improving park trials and other park services. Moreover, the council would create an oversight committee to ensure the funds are spent on improvements as promised.
Growth Has Benefits if We Act
One of the good things from Belton’s impressive growth over the past few years is that our tax base has increased. This is what is enabling the city to seek to issue more bonds. If voters were to reject these proposals, the council would have to make some tough decisions that could mean returning to increasing water rates or cutting back on services. At the end of the day, the pipes have to be fixed.
During my campaign for mayor last year, I promised to find a way to stop the continued increases in water rates (other than what is passed on by Kansas City Water Department for the actual water) and improve city services in the most practical ways possible. Now, as a voter, I have the opportunity to vote for improvements without increasing my taxes.
When I was campaigning last year for the mayor’s position a lot of people wanted change and a new direction from the council and city administration. I truly believe with the outcome of the election with five new members elected to the council you got the people elected that will make the change needed. The 4 questions on the ballot are great step in the right direction for change that was wanted and needed.
I respectively ask you to join me in voting yes on all four questions on the ballot to make much needed improvements to the city of Belton.
Thank you for your time.
Norman K. Larkey Sr.
Mayor, City of Belton