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Zoo tax issue not on Platte
County ballot
Friends of the Zoo taking
the matter to court

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

A court challenge may lie ahead, but as of now the Kansas City Zoological District 1/8 cent sales tax issue will not be on the ballot in Platte County.

Platte County Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown told The Landmark a petition seeking placement of the issue on the ballot, with more than 2900 valid signatures, had been presented recently.

Action to put the issue on the ballot would have had to have been taken by the Platte County Commission prior to an Aug. 30 deadline. The commission did not act on the request, never placing it on an agenda.

The county’s position is that the language in the legislation that created the proposed zoological district does not obligate the county commission to act, saying the language in the legislation uses the word “may,” not “shall.”

After the commission chose not to put the matter on the ballot, representatives of the Friends of the Zoo filed legal action in Platte County Circuit Court, hoping to convince the court to order the county to place the issue on the November ballot (more on the legal fight in next week’s Landmark).

Jackson and Clay county voters will vote this fall on whether to become part of the newly-authorized Kansas City Zoological District. As it stands now, Platte and Cass counties will not be voting on the issue.

The sales tax “would provide support for zoological activities within the member counties of the district,” supporters say.

In a press release issued Tuesday morning, the Platte County Commissioners explained their thought process on the matter. The release said the commission “has reviewed and considered all of the financial obligations that would be imposed upon the taxpayers of Platte County by the creation and maintenance of a Zoological District in Jackson County.”

The release went on to say that Platte County “has discovered that they and any other county approving the creation of the district must appropriate additional funds as necessary to finance the administrative operations of the zoological district for the first six months after its creation.”

Each commissioner is then quoted in the release.

“A blank check to the Kansas City Zoological District for six months of administrative costs is totally unacceptable,” commented Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner.

“Our citizens expect more accountability with their hard earned tax dollars than the provisions of this ballot allowed.”

In addition to the zoological district's administrative costs, Platte County's cost of holding an unscheduled and unfunded sales tax election in November would be approximately $65,000, county officials say.

Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner said, “We have zero money in the 2011 county budget for an off-year election. We would have to tap cash reserves and I am simply not comfortable placing Platte County in that position.”

Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, indicated he feels the county has other priorities.

“Our roads, bridges, and narrow-banding radio requirements are important and essential to all Platte Countians,” added Brown. “The state of our economy does not lend itself to increasing taxes to afford a Kansas City Zoo expansion in Jackson County.”