Last week, David Morris spent $100 on paint to plaster over graffiti on city property near his Crossroads Arts District building, where he runs a photo studio. It's the second year in a row that he has had to do a job he figures the city should handle.
"They won't do it, and Parks and Rec won't do it," Morris says. "The graffiti can be explicit and nasty, and the more you let it build, the graffiti - I won't call them artists in this case, the graffiti people - if you don't cover it up, they feel like they can do it more and more."
That's why Morris has become a grudging supporter of a proposed community-improvement district that would cover the Crossroads.
If approved, the CID would levy an annual tax assessment of $950 on owners whose properties are more than 10,000 square feet (and $550 on those whose properties are beneath that threshold). Parking lots would incur a cost of $250 a year.
For Morris, that works out to $800 for his studio at 2131 Washington - about $2.20 a day.
"Any addition of more expenses I have means it's harder to continue to do business," Morris tells The Pitch. "But at the same time, you want the environment to be safe for your clients to come."
In return, a proposed CID would budget an estimated $40,000 for graffiti removal, according to a first-year operating budget put forth by supporters of the Crossroads CID.
One of the idea's primary backers is Suzie Aron, a Crossroads real-estate broker who says the area bordered by the downtown loop and Union Station, and Interstate 35 and Troost Avenue, is the only major neighborhood in Kansas City that lacks a CID.
That assertion depends on how you define your terms. Big neighborhoods such as Waldo and Brookside have CIDs; others of similar size, including Hyde Park and the West Side, do not.
CIDs are scattered all over Kansas City. They bring additional sales taxes within their boundaries, as well as property-tax assessments, or both, with the promise that the money will be used for such things as maintenance and additional security and, sometimes, services such as snow removal.
The downtown loop's CID is heralded as an example of the concept working well. The property-tax assessment there pays for the Yellow Jackets, those seemingly ubiquitous yellow-clad workers charged with cleaning up the streets, looking after the downtown library, and keeping an eye out for trouble.
Other CIDs address more dubious needs. There is, for example, the one dedicated exclusively to the Skelly Building on the Country Club Plaza, a structure that houses a law firm, a real-estate company and Bo Lings restaurant.
Estimates for the Crossroads CID indicate that it would raise $520,450 in its first year from assessments and membership contributions.
Of that, an approximated $393,700 would pay for functions such as security and maintenance, graffiti removal, cleanup, and marketing services for the Crossroads. (The Crossroads isn't exactly a den of sin, but it logs its share of property crimes, particularly car break-ins.)
The rest would go to overhead, including a $50,000 salary for an executive director to coordinate the CID (plus $11,700 for the taxes and benefits for that position).
Aron is working to convince a majority of the Crossroads' 970 property owners to sign off on the idea. She says residential properties and some of the bigger business owners have given their blessing.
But there are some prominent opponents.
Jeff "Stretch" Rumaner, owner of Grinders, in the East Crossroads, says taxes in the Crossroads are already too high.
"Right now, we pay 11 percent [sales tax] in our restaurant, which is the highest anywhere around," he tells The Pitch. "There's a difference between the East Crossroads and the West Crossroads, and there's nothing proven that says the CID makes the area safer."
Rumaner is already trying to buck another special tax covering his property, the transportation-development district set up to fund the $100 million, two-mile downtown streetcar route. He's tied up with a lawsuit pending against the city, claiming that the TDD is unconstitutional because it would be stacked atop one that already exists.
While the Crossroads CID won't push sales tax higher on his pizzas - it affects only property tax - it's another cost.
"All it is, is an advertising tool for developers and real-estate brokers in order to rent properties out," he says. "And it's a scam."