KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said he hopes to take lessons from a trying 2020 to help Kansas City chart a healthy and prosperous course forward, focused on equitable development and creating a safer city for all, during his annual State of the City address Wednesday at Winnetonka High School in the Northland.
Despite a $70-million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, Lucas said “no city employees will be laid off due to budgetary concerns ... despite what you’ve perhaps previously heard.”
With deep cuts expected in the new municipal budget, KCPD officials have made alarmist claims for months, but Lucas insisted that his budget protects the department’s ability to rehire for positions as needed in patrol and communications without sacrificing safety.
“I know there are some who will want tens of millions of dollars more cut from the police budget,” he said. “Some will want millions more in budget increases. In this submitted budget, we make a financial decision, not a political one.”
Invoking the juxtaposition of a year that started with hundreds of thousands of people lining KCMO’s streets for a Super Bowl parade 50 years in the making followed less than six weeks later by a deadly pandemic that shuttered businesses and dominated our lives, Lucas explained and defended the KCMO Health Department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No mayor wants to close schools,” Lucas said. “No mayor wants to cancel weddings, graduations or to see our small, locally owned businesses suffer. But, I’m a human first. And, at no time could I stand to avoid taking action, knowing that it would lead to hundreds, if not thousands, of more lives lost in Kansas City. Every life is indeed precious and too many families lost loved ones in this horrendous year.”
Lucas said he will “continue to work in Washington and Jefferson City to create further aid,” explaining some of the steps the city has taken to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
“But the most important thing we can do for our economy, our businesses and our neighbors is to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you,” Lucas said, also emphasizing the need to continue wearing masks and social distancing as the vaccination rollout continues. “Consumers in Kansas City need to feel safe again to dine together, to be around one another, to cheer on our local teams as we did before.”
Lucas said Burns & McDonnell is working with the city, local hospitals and community health organizations “to ramp up vaccination opportunities by the thousands each week in Kansas City.”
He also took a moment to reassure “our Black and brown communities” that the available COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
“These vaccines have been tested," Lucas said, "and they are the way we get back to life in some semblance of how we knew it before."
Pivoting from what he called the “most equitable budget in Kansas City’s history" last year — one that includes zero-fare transit and protects tenants’ rights, but also addresses infrastructure concerns — Lucas said the pandemic will force major changes.
He called the proposed budget “leaner,” but promised “targeted investments” in priority city services.
Lucas specifically mentioned expanded snow removal, doubling road resurfacing efforts, outreach for populations experiencing homelessness, the hiring of a chief equity officer and creating a transportation director position to help “aggressively redesign our streets to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries.”
With deep proposed budgetary cuts expected, Lucas said his budget proposal doesn’t close any KCPD stations and instead “will right-size budgets in all our departments, eliminating wasteful spending, leaving most currently vacant positions unfilled.”
The budget doesn’t call for any furloughs or reductions in city services, but touts “a long list of ‘surgical’ cuts and adjustments."
In addition to leaving some city jobs unfilled, KCMO plans to:
- Transition to municipal trash and brush collection;
- Renegotiate health care costs;
- Implement a streetlight LED program;
- Limit travel and special events budgets;
- Offer voluntary early retirement incentives for staff with 20-plus years of services;
- Sell unused city property — including Hale Arena, other real estate and unused vehicles — and consolidate office space at City Hall, using vacant space;
- Refinance debt.
KCMO will still have to make departmental cuts and scale back other budgets, even with those proposed changes and the resultant savings. The Kansas City Zoo, Starlight Theatre, ArtsKC, the Black Archives of Mid-America, Visit KC, Legal Aid of Western Missouri and the Kansas City Film Office will be affected.
Lucas also is proposing a “unified board for economic development review,” which would include the Port Authority of Kansas City, to coordinate projects in the city.
The goal is to value “public input over taxpayer-subsidized luxury development,” but also to save developers time and money with a more streamlined process.
“No longer should we develop out of fear of falling behind,” Lucas said. “We should invest in development because we think it’s right — for all Kansas Citians. We want growth, we want new jobs, new attractions, to build density, but, simply put: if the public is incentivizing development, that development should benefit the public.”
Lucas also addressed a record spike in homicides in 2020, which saw 176 murders committed in KCMO, and said his administration will continue to build off the Reform Project KC platform announced last summer.
“I have been asked often if I regret stating a goal of bringing our homicide number in Kansas City below 100,” Lucas said. “Absolutely not. We can have new airports, an extended streetcar, new businesses, great sports teams, but if a baby can’t live to see her fifth birthday, then we’re nowhere close to the city we need to be.”
The plan calls for engagement in the community at a variety of levels to remove barriers of access and created by poverty that often lead to violence.
Homicides “happen when there are no readily available support systems, mental health services, no alternative path for reconciliation, and, often, little trust in law enforcement,” so Reform Project KC aims to prevent, intervene early, engage police with the community and develop a legal system that engenders trust.
“We are a city that cares for the ill, the working poor, those without permanent shelter and all those who serve our community,” Lucas said in his closing remarks. “And we always will, knowing that our efforts will build an even brighter community for tomorrow.”
Early in his remarks, Lucas commented on Marty Schottenheimer’s passing and acknowledged the 5-year-old girl, identified as Ariel, who was injured in a crash allegedly caused by Chiefs assistant Britt Reid on the Thursday before Super Bowl LV.
Ariel remained hospitalized in a coma with a brain injury, according to the most recent update from Tuesday on a GoFundMe set up for her family.
“We pray for her and her family and we hope that our authorities help all who loved her find solace in obtaining justice in connection with this tragic incident,” Lucas said.
Reid, the son of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, also had surgery after the wreck. The team announced Tuesday he has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation into the crash. On Wednesday, the team confirmed an ESPN report that Britt Reid was no longer with the team.
Reid admitted to officers at the scene that he had “two or three” drinks before the crash, according to a search warrant application.