LS faces big price tag to catch up infrastructure

rpulley@lsjournal.comNovember 12, 2013 

Lee’s Summit has a long, expensive list of road, storm sewers, sidewalks and other projects on the horizon, about $975 million worth, with few ways to pay for them.

The City Council, while preparing for April’s bond issue, responded to pressure from residents and included $4.6 million to rebuild part of Orchard Street and widen part of Pryor Road, but left out many other projects.

After complaints of neighborhood flooding this spring, the council asked the city to prepare a comprehensive list of improvements needed to correct deficiencies in the city.

As the city has grown from a small town in the 1960s, standards changed. Some areas had sidewalks. Others had storm sewers better sized to handle deluges. The council wanted to know what would be needed to give older neighborhoods sidewalks like newer subdivisions. Or stop erosion of creeks along the back of lots in some areas.

Staff delivered that report Nov. 7

“It’s what would it take to get every one up to the same standard, or quality of life, if you will,” said Dena Mezger, deputy director of Public Works.

The total includes some ticking time bombs, Mezger said, like corrugated steel pipes for storm water that are rusting away under roads.

It didn’t include any state highway projects.

It doesn’t include money for maintenance of any of new roads or structures that would be built. It did include greenways that could be a lower priority, she said. And it includes some storm channels that the city in the past categorized as private issues.

City staff estimated the city could raise, over a 20 year period, about a third of the money million needed, if it:

• doubles the current general obligation bond rate

• raised property tax levy by seven cents

• starts a storm water utility (an additional fee for property owners)

• extended its half-cent capital improvements sales tax for another 10 years

• increased a current one-quarter cent sales tax to a full half-cent for parks and storm water control

None of those steps were being proposed, the potential revenue sources for $300 million were intended to convey the magnitude of the challenges, Mezger said.

The council members took the sobering report with only a few comments.

Brian Whitley said projects for public safety and to prevent damage to private property would be a priority for him.

“Storm water is a priority for me,” Councilman Bob Johnson said. “I want to take some time to think about it.”

Councilman Ed Cockrell noted the numbers assume the current economic trends.

“If we don’t start growing this community, we’re going to be stuck,” he said.

Mayor Randy Rhoads said his he didn’t have any immediate comment, “outside the sense that we’re drinking out of a fire hose...”

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