Kansas Citians make tough budget choices every day. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to fund all of our wants and needs. We have to pay our bills and take care of our families, all while trying to save for things like college and retirement.
Putting together a city budget isn’t an entirely different exercise. There are always more needs and wants than money.
The budget we passed today invests heavily in our neighborhoods, thanks to a healthy economy and revenues we haven’t seen in decades. We’ve increased funding to improve quality of life in every part of the city by demolishing about 800 registered dangerous buildings, improving our streets and sidewalks, doing more with our leaf and brush pick up service, expanding bulky item pick up, and enhancing our recycling program.
Our young people also win under this budget. I’m proud that my office is once again committing substantial funding to Turn the Page KC and Teens in Transition. Both data-driven programs have yielded outstanding results for our community by increasing third grade reading proficiency and decreasing contact with police.
This fiscal year, we’ll also be able to connect more of our youth with vital summer job opportunities through Hire KC Youth, and we’ll once again allocate $400,000 to ensure that over 10,000 youth have fun, safe and educational programming during the summer months.
A chunk of this budget helps Kansas Citians benefit by capitalizing on public/private partnerships. We will receive a coveted $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development by leveraging $3 million of city funds. The Choice grant will allow us to transform the Paseo Gateway in the Historic Northeast through investments in the area’s housing, transportation, social services, infrastructure, and education assets, along with adding much-needed employment opportunities.
Additionally, we’re partnering with the Royals to bring an Urban Youth Baseball Academy to Parade Park in the Historic 18th and Vine area. The city contributes $2 million towards the $14 million Academy that will use baseball as a vehicle to take urban youth on the road to success. Currently, we’ve raised about $5.5 million in private funding for that project. Some participating youth may become the next George Brett or Frank White. But all of them will leave the Academy with job training, character development, and leadership skills.
Once again, public safety departments receive significant funding in this budget. This underscores the importance of our earnings tax, which makes up approximately 40 percent of the general fund. Under this budget, public safety will now comprise 75 percent of our general fund.
That leaves just 25 percent for everything else – streets, sidewalks, snow removal, trash pick up, codes enforcement, parks, you get the point.
And that gets us back to my original point – needs versus wants.
We all know we can count on police officers and firefighters to show up when we call 911. That is a need, not a want. But we also need streets without potholes and trash and recycling collected every week and codes enforcers monitoring homes and businesses.
If 75 percent of your household income was taken up by your mortgage, you would need to really think about how to spend the remaining 25 percent. We had to consider those tough choices in this budget and it wasn’t easy.
We must continue to explore creative methods to meet the needs of a 319-square-mile city. And we must make funding decisions based on facts and data — not scare tactics or political posturing. I know where my allegiance lies, and that is in making Kansas City best – nothing more, nothing less.
We have three more budgets to pass as a Council, and I will continue pushing to align our spending priorities with a collection of facts and data, a primary one being our citizen satisfaction survey. We must also fund programs that yield a high return on our investment. As Mayor, I have no problem making tough choices – it’s what Kansas Citians expect and what they deserve.
I would be remiss to close without a shout out to some awesome people I spend time with every day that for months worked behind-the-scenes to make our budget a reality. Our City Manager, Finance Department staff, Mayor Pro Tem and Finance Chair Scott Wagner, and members of my staff, have toiled for hours to dot the “I”s and cross the “T”s in this budget.
I am so lucky to work with amazing talent in each of our departments every day. The 2 percent raise in this budget for city employees is certainly deserved. They’ve seen a wage freeze three of the past five years.
However, they also deserve our gratitude 10 times over for their service to our city. Public service takes a special calling and 6,300 city employees answer that call each day. If you know a city employee, thank them for all that they do for our community. It’s my honor to have their backs and to be their Mayor.
It’s also my privilege as Mayor to make tough choices to keep our momentum going. Like many households across our city, the budget is ground zero for tough decisions. Needs must be met. Wants would be nice. Facts and data are a must.
Onward and upward, Kansas City.