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KC Mayor's Race: Neighborhoods and Infrastructure

By Maria Carter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kcur/local-kcur-575088.mp3

Kansas City, MO – Street maintenance, codes enforcement, and snow removal are just a few of the things Kansas City residents consistently say don't measure up. In the most recent citizen satisfaction survey, Kansas City citizens report being less satisfied than their counterparts in the suburbs and a handful of city's in the region. The next mayor will have to deal with these areas as well as millions of dollars in backlogged deferred maintenance and a century old sewer system. KCUR's Maria Carter reports.

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The Ivanhoe Neighborhood on Kansas City's east side displays extremes in property maintenance. Airick Leonard West heads up the neighborhood's beautification committee and on a drive through the neighborhood points out a tidy two story home

West: Mable and James. They are amazing residents They are well up there in years, but still they take the time and effort to maintain their property.

Their home is immaculate. It's so white it almost glows and the lawn is perfectly edged, not a blade of grass out of place. But not everyone on the 3200 block of Park Street puts this amount of time an energy into upkeep, and some even fail to do the most basic things.

West: And they live immediately next door to a building we've been trying to get dangerous buildings to demolish for years and it hasn't occurred.

Next door, the paint is peeling, the windows are boarded up, and the yard is a mess. Like this house, one in five of the houses in the neighborhood is vacant. West says he's gone back and forth with city hall over this two story shirtwaist. The codes department condemns the vacant house, putting it on the dangerous building list. Then dangerous buildings declares it structurally sound until codes condemns it again. West says the system is frustrating, but points to a bright spot just a few blocks away. One of a number of places where the city has focused money and efforts on one street, upgrading sidewalks and repaving roads.

West: I can't sit here and tell you as a point of fact that that's contributed to the 8 to 10 houses that are being rehabbed there, but they weren't being rehabbed on those blocks before that occurred.

Both candidates have said they will focus more attention on neighborhoods. For his part, Alvin Brooks says he wants for expanding downtown development to creep into other areas.

Brooks: You've certainly got to have money to and I think with the growth and development we've seen will have more money to add to basic city services, to add to infrastructure repair to do the kinds of things that person's feel and I know to some degree we need to improve upon, but it's an ongoing thing.

Brooks also emphasizes education and job creation as crucial in redeveloping inner city neighborhoods. Funkhouser has been an outspoken critic of downtown development, saying it takes money away from other sources. He says the city needs to focus on infrastructure in order to turn neighborhoods around.

Funkhouser: A lot of times when citizens are complaining about a basic service what they really at bottom are talking about is infrastructure. I said when I was city auditor we should be spending 20 percent of total outlay on capital maintence, deferred maintenance and infrastructure. And I'm pretty sure we're no where near that.

In fact, the city spent 28 million dollars last year last year on deferred maintenance. That's from a budget of more than a billion dollar. The money goes to fix up pothole filled streets, crumbling sidewalks, and city owned building. That number is set to rise in the current budget, but the money won't address one major challenge the city is facing--its sewers. Kansas City has a combined sewer and storm water system. After a heavy rain, the system gets overwhelmed, and a stinky mixture of storm water and raw sewage comes out of storm drains and flows into area streams. University of Missouri Kansas City professor of urban affairs Robyne Turner calls infrastructure an invisible problem.

Turner: We take it completely for granted until it falls apart and everyone notices it. The compounded result is going to be that if you don't take care of it, it's going to fall apart.

EPA guidelines require the city to fix the problem, but that's something both candidates say needs further study. Funkhouser says we don't have a good estimate of what the final price tag will be.

Funkhouser: So we're behind the curve. And, that's tough, but first of all we do have to get a handle on it.

The city's water department is involved in developing a report to the EPA looking at how to deal with the problem. For his part Brooks says the city needs to wait for that to move forward

Brooks: The report that's made to EPA will be accepted and we can move towards resolving that problem over time.

Like Kansas City's sewers, many problems with infrastructure and the city's have been largely ignored for years. Tackling the backlog in Kansas City will likely be a slow process for whomever voters elect next Tuesday.

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