Small increase in KCMO budget could be in jeopardy due to coronovirus’ effect on local economy
By John Sharp
KCMO’s $1.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2020-21 beginning May 1 adopted by the City Council March 26 includes only a slight 2.3 percent increase in overall expenditures compared to the current fiscal year’s budget, according to City Budget Officer Scott Huizenga.
And even that relatively small increase could be in jeopardy due to the recent steep downturn in the local economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic which could cause city tax revenue and expenditures to drop for the next fiscal year if the rapid spread of the virus is not quickly brought under control.
But Mayor Quinton Lucas stressed that despite the economic uncertainty the city faces, “we cannot first look to cut the very services our working class families rely on.”
The adopted budget includes $4.8 million to help offset the loss of revenue from implementing free bus service in the city and funding to pay for additional patrol officers for the Police Department and for other major priorities.
Funding in the budget will allow an increase of 26 police officers in the six geographic-based patrol divisions of the Police Department. However, the overall authorized strength of the Department will only increase by 14 full time equivalent positions due to reductions in other areas.
The budget also includes funding for two new tenant advocates in the Neighborhoods & Housing Services Department, as well as new funding for outside legal assistance for tenants and for mediation services to resolve landlord/tenant disputes.
“While we were required to adopt a budget during an uncertain time, the adopted budget sets out priorities that focus more on neighborhoods such as infrastructure repairs, social workers in police stations and zero fare transit,” said 6th District-at-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough.
She said her biggest concern is the city’s ability to fund these priorities with the likelihood of decreasing revenues in the next few months and increasing needs that may arise.
Mayor Pro Tem and 6th District Councilman Kevin McManus said he was glad the approved budget includes funding for small businesses harmed by city restrictions on their operations designed to minimize the spread of the virus through the new Small Business Emergency Relief Fund.
McManus also said he was glad he was able to work with his colleagues to provide additional funding for The Bay Water Park on Longview Rd. so the Parks & Recreation Department will not implement a cost cutting proposal to close and fence off three of the water park’s major attractions – the BayRider surfing simulator, the lazy river and the water slides – four days a week this summer, only leaving them open Friday-Sunday.
Both the South Kansas City Alliance and the Southern Communities Coalition opposed this ill-advised proposal. (I testified against the proposal at a City Council budget hearing and urged the Department to partner with organizations in the community to better promote attendance rather than padlock such expensive attractions most days of the week which would decrease attendance and revenue.)
Lee Barnes, Jr., 5th District-at-Large Councilman, joined Bough in praising the significant funding in the budget to help pay for implementation of zero fare bus service in the city.
Barnes noted he was also pleased that the budget includes a pay raise for some of the city’s lowest paid employees.
Ryana Parks-Shaw, 5th District Councilwoman, said she was pleased the budget funds the new position of neighborhood liaison in the Neighborhoods & Housing Services Department to work with neighborhood groups throughout the city.
“I know that the program will play an integral role in addressing blight in our community,” Parks-Shaw said.
In a separate ordinance also adopted on March 26 that will expire in 60 days following its effective date, the City Council implemented a hiring freeze for positions paying $20 an hour or more, suspension of discretionary expenditures including travel and a prohibition on executing or extending certain limited term, professional services and sole source contracts without specific Council approval.
The Council also extended the deadline for filing and paying 2019 earnings taxes without penalties or interest from April 15 to July 15 to be consistent with recently announced deadline extensions by the federal government and Missouri and Kansas.