200114_council

An item that could be on the April 7 ballot to be voted on by the public would see city bridges repaired using $20 million in general obligation bonds.

The St. Joseph City Council had an unexpected first reading of an item that could lead to $20 million in bonds on the April ballot, which would mean a slight increase in property taxes.

For over a year, the city staff has been keeping the council informed on a number of bridges around the city that are in need of replacement or repairs. When CIP money was not available for such work, the city began looking at the use of general obligation bonds.

During a work session Monday, prior to the council’s regularly scheduled meeting, city staff presented the council with an ordinance that would add a question to the April ballot, asking voters to decide if $20 million in general obligation bonds should be used to fix those bridges.

The council was in consensus to attach that item as a first reading to Monday’s regular meeting and said reading was held.

Director of Public Works Andy Clements said those bonds would be ideal because the money would be available upfront, which would mean the city wouldn’t have to prioritize bridges and move in an order, and could instead tackle them all at once.

“Because of that situation, we’ll be able to hire a number of bridge engineers and we’ll be able to get designs started immediately and get those on the street as soon as the design is done,” Clements said. “As long as we’re aggressive with the schedule and getting those designs started, we can basically get all of those needs addressed pretty much at the same time.”

There are a total of 25 city-owned bridges and almost half of those are in need of repair. Clements said the addition of large-diameter cross-roads pipes that count as bridges would mean over 30 projects could be attacked with the GO bonds.

If approved by voters, the bonds would be repaid through a 0.1210 increase in property tax rates. For a home with a market value of $100,000, this would come out to an additional annual cost of $23. A home valued at $300,000 would see an annual increase of about $69.

Clements said the item was added so suddenly because the city had been waiting to see if a tax levy item was going to be added by the St. Joseph School District. He said the city did not want to compete with the district and did not want to ask the taxpayers for an additional burden at the same time.

“I believe that the delay was really trying to coordinate with the school district and making sure that we didn’t put the question on the ballot at the same time they would have a ballot measure,” Clements said. “As far as we know right now, the school district hasn’t confirmed whether or not they’re going to try and be on the April ballot.”

The City Council seemed to be in favor of putting the item on the ballot.

Councilmember Madison Davis said that the bonds would represent a willingness of the city to invest in itself.

“We need to make some decisions right now, and it’s not a large investment that citizens would see,” Davis said. “So, we hope that, at least a majority of the voting public, would see that this is a good plan and a sound plan and they would support it as well.”

Councilmember Kent O’Dell is glad to see the item potentially going before the voters, and hopes that voters realize the importance of the repairs.

“Putting it up to the vote of the people would probably be the best thing, because they can decide if they want to get these bridges fixed or if they want to start closing roads and going the long way around,” O’Dell said. “It’s something that we need to take care of.”

The council is schedule to vote on whether or not to send the item to the voters at their Jan. 27 meeting.

Additional council action

Council approved a local increase of the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Council reviewed the Missouri Department of Transportation’s alternatives for the future of Interstate 229 and is taking the information under advisement before making a recommendation.

Council saw an update on designs for the upcoming “splash park” that could be built at Hyde Park.

Brendan Welch can be reached

at brendan.welch@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.