KCK community organizers who showed up at the Kansas City, Kansas Board of Public Utilities meeting demanding the board not approve the utility’s annual commission, didn’t get exactly what they wanted, but they did get a financial concession.
The board voted 4-2 to pass the budgets, but they also voted to allocate $250,000 remaining in the utility’s 2022 Economic Development account to assist KCK residents who are struggling to pay their utility bills.
The funds will be transferred to the United Way to distribute to agencies that provide utility assistance in Wyandotte County. This isn’t new. While it may not be well known, each year BPU donates $250,000 to the United way with the requirement the money be used to assist BPU customers who need help paying their utility bills.
The transfer of the economic development funds is in addition to BPU’s annual $250,000 transfer, making a total of $500,000 available for utility assistance.
The additional transfer of funds is in response to concerns expressed by utility customers during the BPA meeting. This was the second BPU meeting in a row where members of the community attended asking BPU not to approve the budget and to find ways to assist residents who they say are burdened with high bills.
The citizen’s complaints were with an increase in BPU General Manager’s annual pay to just under $350,000 and the large part of their bill for Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILOT charges. Those charges are levied by Wyandotte County and collected on BPU bills on behalf of the county.
Participants who attended the meeting by Zoom or phone experienced technical issues that lasted for 30 minutes. Evelyn Hawthorne, the first community speaker who was cut off due to the technical difficulties, was among those who complained the bills were too costly due to the PILOT charges, asked,.“Why do we have to subject ourselves to this foolishness? We need help.”
Louise Lynch, organizer of the community-based Community Conscience Action Network group, testified virtually during the meeting expressed her concern to the board and found it “very discouraging and disrespectful” that remote listeners were interrupted.
“I urge you to make a real plan to take the community seriously and give us our due respect,” Lynch said.
A few agencies who provide utility assistance are United Way, the Salvation Army, El Centro and Cross-Lines Community Outreach.