As the start of the 2013 Missouri General Assembly legislative session draws closer, the city of Independence has its eye on several key issues.

As the start of the 2013 Missouri General Assembly legislative session draws closer, the city of Independence has its eye on several key issues.

The session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 9, 2013, and the city is counting license plate tab thefts, historic preservation tax credits and environmental issues among its top priorities in Jefferson City.

Because the city doesn’t have the ability to track every single piece of legislation throughout the session, it generally supports the legislative positions taken by the Mid-America Regional Council and the Missouri Municipal League, as long as those views don’t conflict with city positions, said Morris Heide, assistant public works director, in a presentation Monday.

Attorney Phil LeVota, the city’s lobbyist and a consultant with the government relations company Midwest Mediation & Consulting, said the city has several factors helping it out “more than most municipalities in Missouri.” LeVota is the brother of newly elected state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence.

“Believe you me, in his new capacity as state senator, I will fully exploit my relationship with my younger brother and make sure the city of Independence’s issues are the top priority in the Missouri Senate,” Phil LeVota said. “...We have some great Republican and Democratic officials that are more than eager to listen to our legislative needs. The people of Independence should be very confident that their representation in Jefferson City is way above any other city in the state.”

Each year, the Independence Police Department reports crime statistics through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, including larceny and theft. From 2005 to 2010, the Independence Police Department reported a five-year average of 6,664 thefts, including license plate thefts making up about 10 percent of the overall theft, Heide said.

“The overall impact on the city as a whole is that the mandatory inclusion of license plate renewal thefts gives the perception that our crime rate is more serious than it is,” he said. “This can have an effect on our local economy, as businesses contemplating having a location in Independence may be hesitant to do so if they see the theft rate that is in the report.”

The city would support legislation that requires renewal tabs be placed in the interior side of the windshield, as some other states do, Heide said.

“Every chance I get to beat the drum, I always talk about our priority is to lower crime and disorder,” Police Chief Tom Dailey said, adding that lowering crime and disorder includes reducing the fear of crime and preventing crime.

More than 730 of the city’s Part I crimes in 2011 included motor vehicle theft, Dailey said. An overwhelming majority of the motor vehicle thefts – roughly 75 percent – involved license plate tabs and license plate thefts.

“This is extremely important to Independence. It gives the wrong perception,” Dailey said. “If we can get this passed, we can truly put a dent in our property crimes, because when people look at the crime rates, they don’t ask what the crimes are. ... We’re not going to have a great impact until we get this changed.”

Tax reform and the elimination of tax credit programs like the historic preservation tax credit program are slated as key topics in the upcoming legislative session, Heide said. Investing money into older properties stimulates local economies and creates jobs, as well as generating local and state tax revenues.

“These credits are often the deciding factor that makes rehabilitation projects financially feasible,” he said, “so
without them, many historic buildings would remain empty.”

Elimination of the historic preservation tax credits would have a significant negative effect on both residential and commercial rehabilitation projects in Independence, Heide said. Currently, several tax credit applications are under way for commercial redevelopment on the Square, he added, and the city supports the extension of the historic preservation tax credit program.

“The state historic preservation tax credit is the only financial incentive to encourage the rehabilitation of historic homes by their owners,” Heide said, “as there is no federal counterpart to that portion of the program.”

The city is closely monitoring a 2008 law regarding renewable energy requirements, stating that by 2021, 15 percent of the power generated by investor-owned utilities must come from renewable energy sources.

Independence Power & Light isn’t subject to these requirements since the law doesn’t apply to municipal-owned utilities, Heide said.

“However, the Power and Light Department has voluntarily met the guidelines set by the law since its inception,” he said. “The city, however, is concerned that further legislation could apply these restrictions or create more restrictive guidelines that could prevent the city from providing the current levels of service it now provides to the citizens of Independence.”