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Rural road projects have been moved to 'fast track'

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

As the world turns.
There are two new developments this week in the continuing saga surrounding Platte County's road sales tax and the roads master plan this week.

First, new commissioners in the past week have instructed the county planning and zoning department to put road improvements in the unincorporated area "on the fast track." This after Jim Plunkett, new second district commissioner, openly expressed frustration that $11.2 million of improvements have already been made or are under contract in the city of Kansas City, with only $1 million committed thus far to rural projects.

The second new development involves some apparent difference of opinion over the motives behind a county contract signed with the City of Kansas City late last year.

Two county officials on board at the time the contract was crafted say it was designed to be sure Platte County road sales tax money is spent on Kansas City projects within this county.

That's the word from Aaron Schmidt, county planning and zoning director, and Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight.

The contract, executed on Dec. 30 of last year, the last commission meeting date for former associate commissioners Michael Short and Steve Wegner, raised eyebrows in its timing and its wording that some say was an attempt to bind the incoming commissioners, Tom Pryor and Jim Plunkett, to spending at least $21 million of county road sales tax money within the City of Kansas City.

Pryor referenced the contract during his unscheduled comments at Thursday's commission meeting. He said he views the contract "as an attempt to bind this commission."

Plunkett, who is on vacation this week, previously has expressed his frustration that Kansas City projects have been "front-loaded" in the roads master plan, with his concern being that by the time unincorporated projects are scheduled the road tax income will not be there to finish projects that voters believed were promised to them.

Pryor's comments came just hours after an article in last week's edition of The Landmark hit the streets, detailing a problem with accuracy in the projected revenue from the county road sales tax. Proponents of the tax may have inflated projected revenue by more than $15 million, with their projects at $65 million over the lifetime of the tax, while the county's investment banker said he is only comfortable with projected revenue at $50 million.

Schmidt says the reasoning for the contract with Kansas City was to calm fears that the city would take the money and spend it elsewhere within its borders.

"When the roads master plan was done, a lot of people had concerns about the Kansas City portion of the county road sales tax money being spent in Jackson County or someplace like that. So at that point, the commission decided to create this agreement to have us (the county) do these improvements within Kansas City to make sure the money is spent in Platte County," Schmidt told The Landmark this week.

Knight backed up Schmidt's view point.

"We don't just give monies to Kansas City like we did to other cities. We didn't want to send the money to Kansas City and maybe have it not be spent in Platte County, that's why the specific projects were listed, to make sure they got done," Knight said Tuesday. "It is Kansas City money that we are spending on behalf of them."

The contract with Kansas City, Schmidt acknowledged, is different from similar contracts the county has with smaller cities who receive a portion of road sales tax revenue. As opposed to contracts with other municipalities, the KC agreement spells out specific projects that are to be done with its share of road tax money. Projects specified to be done in Kansas City per the contract are:

•Four lanes of North Green Hills Road from Barry Road to NE 88th St.
•Capacity improvements at and near the interchange of Barry Road and I-29
•Improvements to North Congress
•Improvements to Barry Road from Amity to Childress
•Four lanes of North Congress from Hwy. 152 to Tiffany Springs.

Of those projects, the North Green Hills improvements are already done. The capacity improvements at Barry Road and I-29 are scheduled for construction this year. The improvements to North Congress are scheduled to be done this year, as are the improvements to North Congress from Hwy. 152 to Tiffany Springs.

Schmidt says that the improvements to Barry Road west of I-29 from Amity to Childress could be in jeopardy because of the estimated road tax revenue being less than originally projected. The new emphasis to get unincorporated projects "on the fast track" also won't help the chances of the west Barry Road project getting done, he acknowledged.

"My direction from the previous county commission was to focus on Kansas City projects, which allowed some of the unincorporated jobs to slip. Now we've got these (unincorporated projects) fired up and now they're moving along," Schmidt said Tuesday.

The unincorporated projects he's referring to include improvements to Baker Road, Farley-Hampton, Hillsboro, Humphrey's, and Elm Grove.

"Within the last week the change of direction has come down to focus more on unincorporated projects," Schmidt said, explaining he follows policies that are outlined for him by the county commission.

Schmidt admitted that on the unincorporated projects, there won't be enough money "to do everything perfect."
There will be tough decisions that have to be made on exactly what should be done and what is top in priority," he said.

"I think the new commission has done a real good job about holding public meeting and asking people how they want their public dollars spent. That process is going to work really well," Schmidt added.



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