Kansas City seeks court order after missed deadline on weed, rental tax ballot questions

Star file photo

With Kansas City voters set to head to the polls in April for the municipal election, lawyers for the city of Kansas City have filed an emergency petition seeking a court order to place three major ballot questions before voters.

The three questions requiring voter ratification would create a sales tax for recreational marijuana — a move that follows statewide legalization that took effect in December — and allow for additional taxes and fees to be collected on short-term rentals — such as those offered through the platforms Airbnb and Vrbo — in Kansas City.

In the petition, filed last week in Jackson County Circuit Court, the city says the clerk’s office mailed necessary documents to election authorities following the passage of city ordinances in mid-January. But since then, the petition says, the city has become aware that those documents were not received by all election authorities prior to a state-mandated deadline of Jan. 24.

The lawyers say the deadline may only be extended to Feb. 7 by a court order, and are asking for a ruling to be made before then to ensure the ballot questions will be presented to voters on April 4.

Morgan Said, chief of staff to Mayor Quinton Lucas, told The Star the notifications were successfully made to three of the four election authorities before the deadline — in Clay, Platte and Cass counties — but not to the Kansas City Election Board. She said the city was notified on Jan. 25 by election officials that the letter had not been received.

Based on conversations with the city clerk’s office, which is responsible for delivering those questions to the election authorities, Said described the matter as an apparent postal issue. She added that the city’s lawyers are confident that the court will side in Kansas City’s favor and that the questions will appear on the April ballot.

The city has also agreed to pick up the tab for any extra costs related to printing or reprinting ballots that may be incurred by the election authorities — should those exist.

The requested court order is undisputed by the Kansas City Board of Elections. David Raymond, an attorney for the election authority, wrote in an affidavit filed Thursday that the “KCEB consents to the relief requested” in the city’s petition.

A hearing in the case is scheduled to take place Friday morning in Jackson County Circuit Court before Judge Jalilah Otto.

Ratification of the ballot questions stands to bring substantial revenue to the city’s coffers. All were brought forward by the Kansas City Council last month.

On Jan. 12, Council members voted 9-2 in favor of adding a question to the ballot asking voters whether the city should add an additional 3% recreational marijuana tax. The tax would not apply to medical marijuana sales.

Last month, the mayor’s office rolled out revenue estimates predicting the tax would amount to roughly $32.5 million over the course of five years. It is earmarked for city clean-up efforts, homelessness prevention and violence prevention.

State voters legalized recreational marijuana in November by amending the Missouri Constitution, allowing the state to collect a 6% sales tax on recreational purchases to help fund marijuana oversight programs and expunge prior marijuana offenses from records. The city tax would be on top of the state tax.

The second set of ballot questions deal with how the city regulates and taxes short-term rentals, such as those offered through the platforms Airbnb and Vrbo.

A recent report from the city auditor’s office concluded that Kansas City missed the opportunity to collect about $3.7 million through those services through permit fees and taxes. Since 2018, the audit found, more than 4,000 short term rentals were listed in Kansas City on a third party site.

The Council wants to put it to voters to determine whether a 7.5% tax on short-term rentals, along with a license fee of $1.50 per night per occupied room, should be collected by the city.

The Star’s Anna Spoerre and Kynala Phillips contributed to this report.