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Potential road tax revenue was inflated
Some planned projects may eventually have to fall off the table

Jim Plunkett
by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

In terms of projected revenue, Platte County voters likely won't be getting what they were promised when they approved a 3/8 cent sales tax for roads in April of 2003.

Sources close to the situation this week confirmed to The Landmark that projections of road tax revenue made in 2003 were done in error, and the original estimated total revenue from the 10-year tax seems unrealistic. More accurate projections, they say, indicate funding could total as much as $15 million less than the estimates fed to voters in 2003.

Information obtained from a variety of sources indicates that promoters of the sales tax overstated how many dollars the tax will bring in during its 10 year lifetime, and also overstated how many dollars in improvements would be made in the unincorporated areas of the county.

As a result, there is growing concern by some county officeholders—second district commissioner Jim Plunkett in particular—that many of the rural road projects that had been promised will not be able to be delivered due to lack of funding unless changes are made to the roads master plan.

Voters approved the tax, with a 10-year sunset clause, by a margin of 58% to 42%. The Platte County Commission at the time promoted the tax by using figures that estimated total road tax revenue over the 10 year lifetime at more than $66 million. Paperwork circulated at the time indicated an estimated annual sales tax growth rate of 5% was used to come up with that figure, which now officials are saying is not the case.

In addition, campaign materials indicated that the revenue would be equally split among cities and unincorporated portions of the county, with nearly $33 million going to cities and another $33 being earmarked for rural areas.

Neither the total estimated tax revenue, nor the total earmarked for rural areas, appears to be correct, Jim Plunkett, newly-elected second district county commissioner, confirmed this week.

Using annual estimated growth of 5%, information prepared by George K. Baum, investment banking firm employed by Platte County, indicates total road tax revenue after 10 years would be around $50 million, about $15-16 million short of what was projected during the sales tax election campaign.

In addition, in news releases and advertisements promoting the sales tax issue, 23 line items of rural road projects were listed, with an estimated cost amount for each also given. A "total" line at the bottom indicated the rural projects would add up to $32,823,970, but in reality the 23 line items only added up to $22,877,672.

It was a discrepancy that, for whatever reason, apparently went unnoticed by all parties involved. So the rural areas, Plunkett points out, were only originally allocated $22 million, not the nearly $33 million promoters of the tax promised.

Plunkett this week indicated since the intent was for rural roads to get half of the total estimated revenue, he will work to see that rural areas end up getting 50% of the revenue.

If the total tax brings in around $50 million, Plunkett says he'll attempt to garner $25 million of that for rural projects. That's still $3 million more than what was actually listed on campaign flyers detailing planned unincorporated projects.

Greg Bricker, senior vice president with George K. Baum, says he doesn't know where the estimated $66 million total originated. Bricker told The Landmark this week he sees the $66 million as an unrealistic goal. Bricker came on board after the road tax issue had already been passed by voters.

"The first place I saw that number was in a report produced for the county by the consulting engineering firm (HNTB). I don't know whether HNTB created that number or some other party provided the number to HNTB to be included in their report," Bricker told The Landmark this week.

Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight, the only current member of the commission who was in office during the road sales tax campaign, also is unsure how the projected $66 million revenue figure came to be.

"Frankly, I wasn't in on a lot of those discussions on those numbers," she said.

Steve Wegner, former second district commissioner defeated by Plunkett last year, spearheaded the road sales tax issue for the commission. Wegner did not return phone calls seeking comment on how original projections were made.

Knight said in researching the topic in the commission office, she believes officials used an estimated growth rate of 8% to come up with the $66 million number. The projection would have been generated beginning with 2001 and 2002 general sales tax revenues, she believes.

She said another reason for the inflated figure is that officials did not account for tax increment financing (TIF) revenue which has to be subtracted from the general sales tax revenue.

"I can't find what number they started with (in making their annual sales tax projections), and it's essential to figure out where to start. They didn't take out the TIF money and that has inflated a lot of revenue that isn't there to spend on these road projects," Knight told The Landmark.

Aaron Schmidt, Platte County Planning and Zoning director, admits that a lot of the revenue projections were done "in house."

Plunkett points out that in order for the tax to bring in the $66 million originally promised, annual sales tax growth would have to be 11%, a very aggressive number. Bricker, the investment banker, agreed with Plunkett that the 11% growth rate seems unrealistic.

Knight, like Plunkett, says she wants to ensure unincorporated areas receive their 50% allotment of total revenue as promised.

"I am committed to keeping the word as far as incorporated and unincorporated being split 50-50," Knight said Tuesday.

"Everyone thought that they were going to get something out of these projects. You have to keep your word (to voters) or you're never going to be able to go back and get another tax issue passed," she remarked.

Information obtained from the planning and zoning office indicates thus far about $11.2 million of road sales tax revenue has either been spent or is under construction contract for the period of time 2003 to 2005 for road improvements in the city of Kansas City. That includes $6 million for Congress North, $2.5 million for Congress South, $2 million for Barry Road Phase I, and $700,000 for Green Hills.

Roads master plan unincorporated projects under construction contract or planned for construction between 2003 and 2005 total about $1 million. This includes Duncan Road Bridge at $200,000 and Jones Myer Phase I at $800,000.

Plunkett and Schmidt both said the revelation that total income over 10 years could be $15 million less than originally projected will mean some master plan adjustments will have to be made. Some of the road and bridge projects promised during the road sales tax campaign may not happen.

"It will become a policy decision by the county commission to adjust the scheduled projects," Schmidt said.

According to a spread sheet obtained from the county planning and zoning office, some of the proposed unincorporated improvements that appear to lack funding in the latest project summary include the following rural bridge projects: Bee Creek Blvd., Cogan Road, Settles Station Road Bridge, Clark Ave., Dye Store Road North Bridge, Brown Road, Dye Store Road Middle Bridge, Hardesty Lane, Jowler Road Bridge, North County Line Road Bridge, County Line South Bridge, Dye Store Road South Bridge, North Bluff Road Bridge, Kirk's Bottom Road Bridge, and Old N Hwy. Bridge.

The whole situation leaves Plunkett, the officeholder who represents much of the unincorporated area of the county, very frustrated.

"I don't know how I can carry out a program that is flawed. What we need to do is correct everything so that we can forward with good projections," Plunkett said.



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