Both sides battle over interpretation ahead of Clay County constitution vote

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The disabled, children and the elderly are the latest target of a blazing battle over the hearts of Clay County voters. Tuesday, voters will decide if the county gets a new constitution.

Leigh Reynolds and her family are in the midst of it all. Her son Wilson, 3, has blossomed at his special needs day care over the last year. Reynolds says it is a crucial part of her son's therapy for autism.

Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway says if voters approve a new county constitution, funding for services like this day care will face drastic cuts.

"When you start mentioning words like total, cumulative, tax levy from all funds, there's little doubt that this is included in all funds," Ridgeway said.

Campaign groups have been filling county voter mailboxes with the same worry that the proposed constitution jeopardizes services for the developmentally disabled, the elderly, and mental health, by including them in the county's property tax levy. It would face new limitations under the proposed constitution.  

But the people who wrote that constitution say that's a scare tactic that is absolutely not true.

"It is the most heinous kind of lie when you victimize those people," Carol Suter said. She helped write the constitution and showed her own tax bill to show that county taxes are entirely separate. Only the county funds will be affected. She even showed an email from a senior services board member who isn't worried.  "Who knows what this constitution means? Those of us who wrote it," she said, pointing to herself.

"They may have intended that," Ridgway said. "But the fact of the matter is we have to deal with the language."

Ridgeway argues services to the elderly and developmentally disabled would be cut because the county commission does set the levies. She held a document from September where levies for senior services, mental health and the developmental disabilities resource board are listed with the county's general funds levy. The state auditor agrees.  This is a fight likely to play out in court if voters approve the constitution Tuesday.

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