KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At one point, Kansas City was facing a more than $70 million budget shortfall largely because of the pandemic. But funding from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will give the city $195.5 million.
Leaders said the money will get Kansas City out of the hole and rebuild its savings. It will also help lift the hiring freeze and fully staff essential departments.
Assistant City Manager Jean Ann Lawson oversees a department of fewer than 15 customer service specialists for Kansas City’s 311 hotline. The staff takes at least half a million calls per year for dozens of essential city services like water and trash.
“It’s difficult if you’re on the phones for seven and a half hours a day, and residents were frustrated because something didn’t go as they needed it to go, and they’ve had to wait on hold for 15 minutes to tell you about it,” Lawson said.
But the department will soon be fully staffed because of the funding from the latest stimulus plan.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said the money will allow the city to pay its bills while also addressing longterm concerns.
“Small business relief is something we can help with,” Lucas said. “Another thing that we’ll be able to help with is tenant assistance and housing trust fund investments. It is transformative for the city.”
The city has been in a hiring freeze for almost a year.
“What we get to do now is actually make sure that people who were due for a pay increase get it, a responsible one. We get a chance to make sure that we can actually fully staff a lot of our departments,” the mayor said. “We have tons of areas where positions were going unfilled.”
Filling open positions in departments like the 311 hotline mean when you call for problems with trash pickup, potholes, property code violations and more, you can get a swift solution.
“That means we can get to the calls without any delay for the residents,” Lawson said. “Currently, we’re experiencing some long hold times.”
The federal money should hit the city’s account in the next 60 days.
At Thursday’s city council meeting, City Manager Brian Platt got the green light for developing a plan on how specifically to spend it and then present it to the council. He said there are already ideas for how to best serve the community with the funding.
“Additional tenant and rental assistance, housing programs to make sure that people have the support they need to stay in their homes,” Platt said. “Small business loans and grants and other initiatives and projects that will help jumpstart the economy and bring things back to normal in the city.”
Platt said the funding will allow the city to restore its savings accounts and rainy-day funds in case there’s another economic downturn.
“This allows us to not only be comfortable moving forward should another event like this occur at any scale, but it also allows us to add additional support or resources to those operations and community groups and nonprofits that may have had a reduction,” Platt said.