Good moves on basic services in KC
The Kansas City Star
With the help of taxpayers, Kansas City’s budget is in better shape this year than in early 2012.
The half-cent sales tax increase approved last August will make it possible to keep parks cleaner, open community centers for longer hours and pave more roads. A $500 million bond plan will pay for vital sewer upgrades.
All are victories worth celebrating for the city, as Mayor Sly James noted in his recent letter pointing out strengths and weaknesses in the proposed 2013-14 budget, which the City Council will endorse next month. At a time when many other cities and states are looking to cut services, Kansas City went the other way — with voters’ support — to provide something better to its residents.
But James and the council still need to repay voters’ trust in city government with even more changes.
Among the highest priorities is to reform the city’s costly, unsustainable pensions. That would save millions of dollars a year for taxpayers — freeing up those funds for better basic services — and ensure stable retirement benefits for retirees.
Wait, you’ve read those words before? Yes, because James, the council and city staff have been struggling to nail down agreements for almost two years. A citizens group put forward a solid transformation plan way back in November of 2011, recommendations the council quickly endorsed — and yet here we are in early 2013, with nothing decided for certain.
In his budget letter, James didn’t highlight another challenge still looming for the city: It needs to spend more money to repair basic infrastructure, not just roads but also dozens of aging public buildings. The estimates range into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The most appropriate way to suggest paying for these repairs is through a bond issue that would raise property taxes, something James seems to favor, although a public vote on any kind of plan isn’t likely until 2014.
James made excellent points about progress the city is making on several fronts. A few new grocery stores are planned east of Troost Avenue. A statistically based initiative to battle violent crime — called the No Violence Alliance — is under way. The police force decided to join the city’s health insurance plan, which will save money in the future, too.
The energetic James has had a hand in these and other success stories. Kansas City must keep pressing ahead by looking for even more ways to most efficiently serve residents.