Priest leads parishoners' fight to derail streetcar expansion

KANSAS CITY - Members of the St. Therese Little Flower Parish have banned together to derail the streetcar expansion before it even begins.

"This church is a voice for this neighborhood,” Father Ernie Davis said.

Whether one of the 250 members or not, Father Davis offers more than just support.

"But for the defense when they need it, we speak up for them,” he said.

So when he heard about the possibility of the city’s streetcar expanding less than three miles from their church, he realized the church needed to speak up.

“I thought here we go again,” he said. “Somebody outside the neighborhood is going to impose something on the people who live in the neighborhood. That’s going to make things worse for us."

Plans to expand the streetcar will add a 1 percent sales tax on purchases in areas between the west of State Line Road and I-435 to the east.

"That means that instead of buying food and instead of heating their homes,” Father Davis said, “they’re going to be paying for a streetcar."

Also included is a special assessment for anyone living within a half a mile on either side of the streetcar.
Residential property owners would pay 70 cents out of every $100 of their assessed property value.  A homeowner whose house has a market value of $200,000 would have to pay $266 per year.

Non-profits pay a little less than half of that; they would pay 40 cents of every $100. Non-profits with properties valued at less than $300,000 would be exempt.

Valerie Blackwell has lived just a block from St. Therese for more than 40 years.

"A lot of these young people in these neighborhoods work in fast food,” she said. “They’re working in Johnson County, the streetcar isn't going to Johnson County."

City Spokesman Chris Hernandez said the city has provided plenty of chance for input from members of the community. He said the financial plan for the streetcar expansion is modeled after the existing downtown plan.
"If the federal government would give us money we’d be happy to do it with all federal funding,” he said, “highly unlikely."

The expansion will be up for a public vote next summer if a judge approves the plan April 1 during a public hearing.

"So this is why we’re getting out in front now,” Father Davis said.

Davis said he knows of at least three churches that plan to sue to stop the street car and proposed property assessment. 

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