• Independence city officials take concerns to D.C.

  • From cops to coal-fired power plants, Independence officials recently took a varied list of legislative priorities to Washington, D.C.

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  • From cops to coal-fired power plants, Independence officials recently took a varied list of legislative priorities to Washington, D.C.
    Mayor Don Reimal, District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg and Deputy City Manager John Pinch traveled March 11 and 12 to the nation’s capital, where they shared the city’s issues that relate on a national basis with U.S. Rep Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Kansas City, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., as well as aides for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio.
    The following issues are among the priorities that Reimal, Gragg and Pinch discussed:
    Congress is now considering the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, which would allow states to collect sales tax on online purchases, regardless of where online and catalog retailers are located. But states also must agree to simplify their sales tax laws.
    Reimal said municipalities like Independence are concerned because local sales taxes aren’t getting passed back to the cities when people shop online. Independence’s local sales tax dollars go toward streets, police capital improvement projects, fire protection, stormwater projects and parks.
    “We’re looking for some help to get that taken care of,” Reimal said. “We’re not looking to get anyone to stop buying online – that’s becoming a norm – but I think it’s only fair that they pay the sales tax so the cities aren’t shortchanged on their lifeblood.”
    Gragg said local mom-and-pop stores are at a huge disadvantage since they make the investment in infrastructure, utilities and other expenses, all while customers often opt to shop online at less expensive prices to bypass the sales taxes. Legislation passed at the federal level needs to include language to also protect local jurisdictions, Gragg said.
    “We have no guarantee that if that money is collected at the state level it will trickle down to the local economy,” she said, “so that is where our concern is now.”
    Through the COPS Hiring Recovery Program component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Independence received more than $500,000 to hire three additional police officers through June 30, 2012. The three grant-funded positions were required to be retained for at least 12 months – at the city’s expense – following that federal funding period.
    Because of economic hardships, the city asked for an extension of the COPS Hiring Recovery Program.
    “But the economy hasn’t come back very good, and the fourth year, it’s real hard to have the money to do that with,” Reimal said.
    Independence has received national attention for its use of Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars. The regional U.S. Housing and Urban Development office and the National League of Cities have recognized Independence’s efforts, and in October 2011, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan visited several completed NSP properties in Independence.
    Page 2 of 2 - Three rounds of NSP funding took place in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Independence is requesting funding for the fourth round. The city would like to incorporate future NSP funds in a mixed-use development, instead of just residential sites. Gragg agreed, saying additional funding is crucial for western Independence in commercial and retail investments.
    “You have to have retail and rooftops to revitalize these areas,” Gragg said.
    Independence Power & Light relies heavily on a coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to pollution in other states.
    Reimal said he believes that, with a little bit more time for research and development, a solution can be reached with burning cleaner coal in the United States.
    “We wanted to make sure they understood the regulations EPA is bringing to us are almost unattainable in the time period they’re giving us,” Reimal said. “It sure is costing us and the rate payers. We have no choice – if we don’t comply with the rules they’re providing us, they’re going to fine us and fine us heavily.”
    While the city doesn’t disagree with the need for greener energy consumption, local officials are concerned with the tight deadlines that EPA is placing to come into compliance, Gragg said.
    “I get calls and complaints (from constituents) that we are just raising rates to be making money,” Gragg said. “What they don’t understand is that a majority of the rate increases are so we can meet the federal regulations.”
    Overall, both Reimal and Gragg described the D.C. trip as successful and said representatives were generally receptive to Independence’s concerns. Local officials should meet face-to-face with federal representation in Washington, D.C., rather than try to schedule appointments with them when they are back in Eastern Jackson County, Gragg said.
    “It is difficult to do that here because when they come back to their jurisdictions, they are doing ceremonial responsibilities and fundraising. But in Washington, that’s when they are in legislative mode,” Gragg said. “It’s also important to make that trip so that we, as elected officials, understand how things function at the federal level and how legislation at that level comes back to affect the local level.”

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