KC rolls forward, poised to tackle new challenges
The Kansas City Star
Don’t rest on your laurels, Kansas Citians.
That’s the appropriate challenge from Mayor Sly James after voters last week made significant decisions to invest $600 million in better parks and upgraded sewers over the next five years, creating long-term benefits for this area.
The city still faces plenty of challenges in bolstering education, economic development and the quality of life in neighborhoods. While the agenda is a long one, it’s encouraging that City Hall seems focused on sound priorities.
In a speech the day after voters easily passed a higher sales tax and $500 million in sewer revenue bonds, James was already looking ahead. Kansas Citians are ready to embrace real change in crucial areas, he said, but they will have to work together to make it happen.
Some of the top priorities:
The proposed streetcar system could be in the hands of voters as soon as November. A new streetcar authority will seek higher sales and property taxes inside a downtown transportation district to help get a two-mile starter line operating by 2015. A defeat at the polls would again signal this community’s lack of interest in better transit.
The city needs to lead an overhaul of the Economic Development Corp., partly to stop developers from shopping at multiple tax-relief-granting outfits for excessive public subsidies. Also, James should work with business leaders and area mayors to reduce the absurd and costly poaching that simply moves private-sector jobs back and forth across the state line.
Local control of the Police Department needs to happen, but it won’t until at least 2013. City officials first want to see whether Missouri voters in November allow St. Louis to wrest its police force from state control. If that happens, Kansas City would be the only big city in the nation without local control, giving its leaders more ammunition to go to Jefferson City to change that peculiarity.
The city must complete its modern crime lab and new East Patrol station, as promised to voters in 2010. And, as the city continues looking for a downtown convention hotel developer, it has to make sure any deal does not put taxpayers on the hook for a major portion of that cost.
City Manager Troy Schulte needs to hire an aggressive fire chief who knows how to improve ambulance response times and reduce the number of firefighters. The city also soon will unveil a plan to revamp operations of its long-maligned Water Services Department. Improvements in customer service and faster repairs of broken water lines are key goals.
James says he won’t pull his foot off the pedal when it comes to promoting better education. His “Turn the Page” initiative is a promising way to help bring children up to their reading grade level. Beyond that things get murkier.
The future of Kansas City Public Schools — especially whether the unaccredited district somehow will be broken up — likely will be much-discussed in the 2013 General Assembly.
- Finally, the James administration does not expect to ask voters for more money in the near future.
That means no election this fall on financing an improved animal shelter or more infrastructure repairs.
Instead, City Hall appears ready to focus on fixing long-festering problems.
One is to reduce taxpayer costs for troubled city pension programs while making sure they can provide steady income for retirees. Getting control of health insurance expenses for Police Department employees could save millions in the long run.
There’s plenty to do to keep Kansas City a “world-class city,” as the mayor boasted last week. Agreed, so let’s get to it.