After years of complaints about the Kansas City, MO, City Council and mayors being focused on economic development and developers, Mayor Quinton Lucas’ first State of the City address and budget focused on the concerns of ‘regular’ folks.
Early in his first State of the City address, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas made sure to acknowledge the many good things former Mayor Sly James and members of the city council – of which he was a member for five years – accomplished. In addition to a Super Bowl Championship, Kansas City residents have a lot to celebrate, said Lucas. Then, he delivered the big “but” that set the tone for his speech, for the budget he would present to the city council the next day and potentially for the balance of his mayoral term.
“… but, we all know and recognize that we have much more work to do to build a more equitable city.”
It was an objective he returned to several times during his speech; building a city government that is equitable – fair, just and reasonable – and addresses the concerns of working men and women in the community. Here’s how he plans to do just that.
IMPROVE CITY INFRASTRUCTURE
Potholes are a big problem in Kansas City. In 2017, voters approved a general obligation bond initiative and correlating property tax increase to repair and fix exiting infrastructure across the city, generating almost $40 million per year. In 2018, voters renewed a one-cent sales tax for capital improvement generating up to $70 million per year. However, as the city looked at its capital improvement priorities, mundane street maintenance priorities slid further down the list.
The budget reaffirms the city’s promise to voters that priorities for the GO bond expenditures and capital improvement sales tax will be applied to taking care of existing roads, bridges, and buildings
Mayor committed $17 million, a 70% increase from the funding level two years ago for street resurfacing.
In addition, he’s recommending appointing a “Pothole Czar,” to help the city better prioritize road projects while making sure to incorporate basic street maintenance and resurfacing priorities into the list.
After receiving more than 10,000 trash pickup complaints last year, the city has severed ties with contractors and is hiring and managing its own trash collection service. The move will save taxpayers nearly $20 million over the next 10 years.
The budget includes salary increases for all city staff.
Lucas acknowledged the city’s practice of investing in major corporations and developers in hopes that the benefits from the investment would trickle down. That era has come to an end, said Lucas. “This year, and in the years to follow, you’ll see significant change in how we do economic development.”
The mayor’s budget cuts city funding to the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Visit KC, the Office of Cultural and Creative Services, and the Kansas City Film Office.
To help implement this change, and replace it with something that works better, he proposes hiring a “fellow” to dig in and review all of the city’s economic development tools and craft policies that help create fair economic development policies for all Kansas City neighborhoods.
The mayor committed to working harder toward economic development on the city’s east side. He will work harder to leverage the funding sources, including federal sources such as the Community Development Block Grant, and the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax received from development to support projects that make a difference.
He previously announced a plan to make bus rides on the Kansas City Area Transit free, however a program to fund free rides still needed to be developed.
That evening the mayor announced the city has found just under $5 million to cover the city-supported portion of the program. As planned, the private sector is beginning to step up to contribute toward the free fares program. They “understand that free public transportation would allow Kansas Citians to access opportunities for employment and education – which leads to a better quality of life and a better community
After working hard during his first six months in office to pass the Tenants Bill of Rights, the mayor was relatively sparse on his comments in support of safe and affordable housing, the mayor said he would do more to find resources to support the creation of quality, affordable housing opportunities for homeless and low-and medium-income Kansas Citians.
The city voted to decriminalize possession of marijuana but the mayor wants to take it further, removing all marijuana violations from the city’s municipal ordinances. Federal law would still be in place to handle marijuana distribution cases where larger levels of marijuana are involved.
The mayor also announced a plan to pardon past municipal violations of marijuana possession. See story this page for additional information.
“While we can’t fix every situation, we can do our level best to remove barriers,” said Mayor Lucas. Pardoning past violators may remove a barrier that keeps someone from obtaining a job.
The budget increases the number of police officers, invest in social workers and, adds probation officers to ensure that convicted domestic abusers cannot keep their firearms to terrorize – or in too many cases murder – their partners.
The mayor said he will support Councilwoman Melissa Robinson’s plan to address student violent crime and the governance structure of the police force. “The goal of this is to hear from the community and from experts in public safety to learn what we can do to address gun violence,” said the mayor. “We need to assess the effectiveness of the many programs … that we are currently funding, and identify the changes needed to make our city safer.”
What was missing from the State of the City address was discussion about the airport, street cars, and growth downtown.
“We’ll make sure we get the big deals done, complete big projects on time and on budget,” said the mayor.
Instead, his focus was elsewhere. His speech and budget “tell everybody in this city that they matter, and their neighborhoods, their issues, and for our workers, their pay matters.”