Counties and municipalities in the Kansas City region are currently using a variety of techniques to finance trail and greenway projects. These range in size and scope from the bequest of a land gift by a developer to the passage of a voter-approved parks/trails sales tax measure. The MetroGreen plan has explored a range of financing options, illustrating successful approaches within the region and outlining potential new financing opportunities.
Achieving the vision of MetroGreen may involve several financial approaches, ranging from a wholesale regional funding initiative to a series of independent — yet interconnecting, ideally — local efforts reflecting the goals, financing capacity and political landscape of a county or municipality.
Local governments have a wide range of funding sources to consider and can look to other funding partners such as state and federal programs. Several metro area governments have found success in this area by combining funding sources into a so-called "funding quilt." For example, the city of Lee's Summit, Mo., relies on several sources to fund its comprehensive greenway plan: voters have approved a dedicated parks/trails sales tax; federal and state grant money has been secured; and park planners work closely with developers to encourage donations to park land, trails and green space.
Another model community is the city of Lenexa, which uses a variety of funding sources to implement its "Rain to Recreation" program. These include a 1/8 cent sales tax for stormwater/recreation improvements; a stormwater utility charge on residential, commercial, and industrial users; and a capital fee on new development. These funds are supplemented with revenue from existing sources such as the county's Stormwater Management Program.
Regardless of the combination of funding methods used, the primary funding source for MetroGreen will be individual local governments. State and federal funds (as well as private sources) can serve as incentives or as supplements, but relying upon them as a primary funding source will limit the ability to achieve the vision of MetroGreen.
Key financing options
A community's financing options will depend on such factors as taxing capacity, budgetary resources, voter preferences and the political will of the governing body of a jurisdiction. Funding for trails and greenways can come from federal and state grants; the creation of regional special districts; county and municipal taxing/borrowing option; and local non-taxing sources such as impact fees, stormwater utilities, and negotiated donations by landowners.
The ability of local governments to establish dedicated funding sources for trails and greenways (and more generally parks and land conservation) depends on state enabling authority. Both Kansas and Missouri have given local governments a broad and varied range of options to fund trails and greenways such as taxes, borrowing, impact fees, etc.
The funding options explored in detail for this plan vary in how difficult each is to implement and yield significantly difference sums of money. For instance, sales tax measures are fairly popular and can generate considerable funds. However, they require voter approval and are limited by a jurisdiction's taxing capacity. Some local planners are successfully encouraging developers to donate land during the planning process — an approach with a simpler implementation process, yet one that will likely yield fewer conservation resources. Whatever the funding structure may be, it is important that a community carefully assess its options and design a program that reflects local needs, maximizes local resources and leverages outside funding.
Federal and state sources
At the federal level, local communities in Missouri and Kansas have relied on grant dollars from programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Transportation Enhancements and the Recreational Trails Program (SAFETEA-LU). These federal sources typically require a local funding commitment and are competitively awarded. Since these resources are not sufficient to fully fund local trails projects, it is recommended that federal grants be used to supplement a locally funded trails program.
Dedicated sales taxes can generate considerable sums of money for conservation/trails. For example, Platte County passed a 1/2 cent sales tax in August 2000 that will generate $5 million annually for 10 years toward the development and management of park and recreation facilities. In the city of Olathe, voters approved a 1/8 cent sales tax in November 1999 and approved extending the park sales tax for another 10 years in 2004. Portions of the revenues are being used to fund trails and greenways and to leverage federal SAFETEA-LU funds.
The sales tax is a common source of county and municipal funds in the metro region, supporting such projects as parks, recreation, stormwater and other capital improvements. Objections to a sales tax generally involve the regressive nature of the tax.
In general, property taxes can provide a steady source of revenue while broadly distributing the tax burden. However, there is stiff competition for these funds for other public purposes and a high level of concern among taxpayers about raising these taxes. In Johnson County, residents have supported several major park and trail funding measures in recent years, including a 1986 tax levy that established the Streamway Parks System, a network of trails and parks along eight major streams.
Borrowing funds can provide a community with substantial revenue up front to purchase land while it is available, while spreading costs into the future to be borne by current and future beneficiaries. However, financing charges are accrued and voter approval is required in many cases. In Leawood, voters passed a $12.5 million general obligation bond — the largest bond in the city's history — to develop parkland and improve an existing park. The implementation process and voter approval requirements for tax levies and general obligation bonds vary in Missouri and Kansas.
Impact fees/developer dedications
Impact fees, park excise taxes and developer dedication requirements are among the more common techniques used to fund trails and greenways. In the city of Kearney, Mo., developers are required to dedicate open space or parkland on which trails can be developed or donate money in lieu of land in the amount of $325 per new home. In addition, the city is incorporating sidewalk trails into its road-widening projects which will connect to the main trail networks and neighborhood schools. Cities and counties that have adopted local trail plans should require fees or dedications when developments are proposed along trail corridors.
Stormwater utility fees
Stormwater utility fees are helping the city of Lenexa fund its "Rain to Recreation" program, a series of natural, park-like detention basins connected by greenways and trails. These fees and the innovative, multi-funding source approach being used by Lenexa could become a model for other metro communities.
The potential for a regional financing program also should be explored. The options include a modification of the bi-state tax (the current enabling legislation is limited to cultural and sports facilities and activities), and regional recreation and transportation districts in Missouri.
Considering election trends
An analysis of election trends is helpful in understanding voter behavior and levels of public support for fiscal measures within a community and a region. An election analysis was completed for the 2002 MetroGreen Plan which reviewed all fiscal and environmental measures at the state, county, municipal and special district levels over a period of five years. Examining these measures can help local decision makers assess next steps.
In the past, Kansas City metro area voters have shown a strong willingness to support public financing measures — including taxing and borrowing — for parks, trails and greenways. Support has varied among jurisdictions and spending measures, but public support is generally strong and many communities have approved land conservation finance measures in recent years.
In Johnson County alone, voters have supported a number of major park and trail funding measures, including a county-wide tax levy in 1986 to fund the Streamways Parks System, a $6 million general obligation bond approved in 1998 to acquire land for a Big Bull Creek Regional Park and a 1/8 cent parks sales tax in the city of Olathe in 1999.
Careful consideration should be given to the implementation of financing techniques that require voter approval and those that do not. To implement most voter-approved taxing/borrowing options, a three-step approach is recommended:
- Feasibility research
- Public opinion polling
- Measure design
First, research is conducted regarding a jurisdiction's financing capacity and the potential revenues that could be raised via different options. This type of research will help inform local leaders about the funding options available, how much revenue these options would raise, and what the impact might be on residents.
To assess voter preferences, their willingness to fund trails and greenways (in relation to other public needs) and how much they are willing to spend, a scientific public opinion survey should be conducted. A public opinion survey was conducted in September 2001 to measure support for MetroGreen. Area residents expressed some support for various regional and local tax measures; however, residents indicated that more information on MetroGreen and its benefits would increase public support. As local communities continue efforts to implement MetroGreen or local trail plans, additional public polling should be conducted.