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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The chunky binders are in the hands of Kansas City Council members, officially starting the season of “deep dives” into the proposed city budget.

And there’s a lot to go through.

Currently at $1.9 billion, the 2022-2023 budget takes a “cautiously optimistic” approach, anticipating a bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

City leaders said Thursday during a council business session that the biggest comeback is expected to come from tourism. Take, for example, tax revenue coming from hotels and motels. That’s money that significantly bottomed out at the start of the pandemic.

This budget year, city staff are assuming that hotel and motel revenue growth will be 35%. They also expect sales tax revenue to increase 13% over last year.

But there are already concerns over a six-month extension of the existing hiring freeze. It’s a money-saving move affecting all non-union jobs.

“I understand why we’re doing that, but I also worry that some departments are in more need of employees than other departments,” 1st District Councilman At-Large Kevin O’Neill said.

“We may have some staff and departments that are doing the jobs of two or three people. There’s a lot of overtime,” 5th District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said.

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt weighed in on the situation.

“We’re also taking this as an opportunity to restructure some of the services that we provide. Do we need to backfill 1:1 all of these vacancies? Often the answer is no,” Platt said.

“We’re thinking about new services and operations that we want to provide and moving different positions in different ways,” Platt said.

A saving grace in this year’s budget is the second round of money coming from the American Rescue Plan: $97.4 million intended to address the impact of COVID-19.

The challenge is that this is a short-term solution to the issue of expenses outweighing revenue.

“When we don’t have a new tranche of American Rescue Plan funds next year, what are we looking at?” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas asked.

Kansas City Budget Officer Krista Morrison said Kansas City has for a time had a “structural imbalance.”

“Our expenditures are far outpacing the growth of revenue across the city. That does not change,” Morrison told city leaders Thursday. “And we are in a position, starting at next year’s budget, which I should have put this caution on that slide of the fund balance, is that while we look like we’re in good shape, we start to erode fund balance next year.”

“Now we should be seeing, hopefully, full recovery of convention and tourism business so that will help,” Morrison said. “But there still is a structural imbalance starting next year that this city is going to have to start to face.”

The city council will adopt the budget in late March, and the new fiscal year starts May 1.

What’s included in the budget?

According to a release from the city, the budget Lucas and Platt submitted will make investments in public safety, affordable housing and sustainability.

The proposed budget fully funds the new Housing and Community Development Department, including $12.5 million for the Housing Trust Fund, $2.5 million for the Tenants Right to Counsel Program and $40 million for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which is funded with federal sources, according to the city.

The budget will also focus on improvements to services like street repair and resurfacing, trash and litter, and snow removal. The Public Works department would see a $2.7 million boost up to $145 million under the proposed budget.

The city said the proposed budget would provide $37.4 million in additional funding for the Kansas City Police Department, over the 20% of the city budget’s operating fund that’s required by state law.

In his State of the City address Wednesday, Lucas said Kansas City has a goal of hiring an additional 150 police officers and increasing pay for officers and civilian staff.

The budget also includes funding to increase salary scales for city employees, a move city leaders hope will improve retention and recruiting.

Speak up

The public can attend a series of public hearings to provide feedback on the proposed budget to city leaders. These meetings are scheduled on the following dates:

  • Saturday, Feb. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon, virtual 
  • Wednesday, Feb. 23, from 6-8:30 p.m., in person and virtual, City Hall, 26th floor Council Chambers
  • Saturday, March 5, from 9 a.m. to noon, virtual

Links to virtual meetings can be found here.