Modified billboard fee moves forward

Kansas City has a tough ordinance to tackle blighted billboards, but it isn’t enforced very well. The council will decide today whether to let voters decide in November if they want to ensure a stream of revenue that will go toward enforcement.

The City Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee yesterday moved one step closer to putting a billboard fee on the November ballot, although it made a change in the mechanism it would use to produce revenue. The proposal would generate revenue to allow enforcement of a 2007 ordinance intended to remove outdated and poorly-maintained billboards across the city.

Last week, the council considered the pros and cons of a 2% tax on the gross revenues of outdoor advertising. As yesterday’s hearing began, Councilman Ed Ford suggested a different approach: a license fee of $100 per billboard. Either measure would go on the November ballot for voters to decide. The 2% tax would be expected to generate $110,000-$118,000 a year; the $100 tax would raise $60,000-$80,000. Representatives of the billboard industry had threatened to challenge the constitutionality of the 2% tax in the courts, but said they didn’t have the same concerns about the license fee. Several neighborhood representatives urged the city to stick with the 2% tax and act to put it on the November ballot.

Several council members argue the city needs a dedicated revenue source to remove blighting billboards across the city. They say since a more restrictive billboard ordinance was passed in 2007, the city has not had the resources to enforce it. Councilman Scott Wagner, however, presented new research he had conducted by looking at call volumes to the city’s 3-1-1 complaint center. Since 2008, he said, the call center received only eight calls about billboards. “We’re talking about eight billboards, and only two of those required any action by the city. That suggests to me that billboards aren’t a big issue,” Wagner said. Bob Langenkamp said his city planning department is meeting with Codes to discuss that issue. Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo said she believed the city already has the ability to enforce the billboard ordinance, so it was not necessary to add a new tax to pay for enforcement.

In the end, the council committee members agreed unanimously to forward the $100 license fee to the full council today, which is the last day the council can agree to place a measure on the November ballot. If the full council approves the measure, the committee has promised to work with the city departments, neighborhood groups and the industry to consider changes in the current enforcement policy.

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