The little city that still isn't

It's not surprising that supporters of incorporating White City fell short of the number of signatures they needed to place the proposal on the November ballot. Asking residents of a predominantly low-income area to increase their taxes to create a new city government is a hard sell in the best of times, and even harder during a recession. But incorporation for the community of about 5,000 people is something that needs to happen before improvements already completed there begin to deteriorate.

Jackson County, which administers the community, created an urban renewal district there almost 20 years ago. Using a small tax levy paid by all county residents, the district used tax-increment financing to improve roads, add sidewalks and street lighting, create parks and build a community center.

The district stopped collecting its tax levy in 2008, and is in the process of winding down. What's left is a greatly improved community, but one at risk of losing what has been invested there.

The county does not have the resources to maintain streets and roads to city standards in what is already a small city in all but the legal sense.

Some supporters of incorporation want the ability to subdivide their land to increase density, which is allowed inside city limits but not in the unincorporated county. Others want to see the infrastructure created there over the past 16 years maintained for the future.

An additional incentive is $1 million the county set aside from urban renewal funds to build a city hall — if White City incorporates by 2014.

All of this comes at a price. A study conducted for the county concluded residents would need to pay $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed property value to establish a city government and the services that go along with it. That's $217.50 a year for a house assessed at $150,000.

Organizers of the incorporation effort have their work cut out for them to convince their neighbors that increasing their taxes that much is worth the money. The most recent effort clearly didn't persuade enough residents to sign a petition to put the matter to a vote.

If supporters start now to build an energetic campaign, there is time over the next year and a half to make the case that the improvements to the community are worth preserving. They also should consider including some of the industrial property adjacent to the residential parts of the community to ease the burden on homeowners. White City industries have benefited from urban renewal spending along with residents, and have an interest in seeing the improvements preserved.

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