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Mayor Calls for Drastic Budget Cuts

By Maria Carter

Kansas City, MO – Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser called on the city this week to take a hard look at its budget and make some tough cuts. The city's dealing with chronically unfunded budget obligations and faces a likely recession in the coming years. Maria Carter has more on the Mayor's recommendations and reactions.

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Mayor Funkhouser issued his budget proposal in response to one by City Manager Wayne Cauthen, which would phase in some 78 million dollars in cuts over three years. Unlike Cauthen's plan, the Mayor's budget targets specific programs, but it also increases funding for some city services. First on the mayor's hit list--the city jail. Funkhouser says most of the 9-thousand people who go through the jail are there on bond and only 350 are convicted of crimes.

Funkhouser: We don't need to continue to run a debtors prison folks and that's what we're doing. It's a historical anachronism. It's a vestige. This is not what is done in the other cities around here. They don't run a prison.

Funkhouser wants to close or privatize the jail, saving the city some 4-point-7 million dollars a year.. He says the most serious offenders should be dealt with by the state and the rest could be better handled by Jackson County's Detenction center. Nancy Leazer is the director of Municipal Corrections Institution and says the inmates stand to lose. Leazer says the majority of those in the city jail have problems with drugs and alcohols, mental health, or homelessness and if it were privatized, it lose out on grants to fund healthcare and job training programs for inmates.

Nancy Leazer: I believe completely in alternatives to jail. This is a population that has mostly burned their bridges with other organizations if they have even sought them out.

Animals behind bars could also bear the brunt of the Mayor's cuts. Funkhouser has recommended eliminating more than 4 million dollars for the Kansas City zoo within two years, saying it's a regional draw that should be supported by other area communities too. But Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff says the cuts could have dire and quick consequences.

Randy Wisthoff: If that's what came to pass, we would institute immediately a very quick plan to basically shut the zoo down.

Wisthoff say that would be a loss to Kansas City and he notes that all major cities have a zoo. Funkhouser's plan also would slash funding for liberty Memorial. The Zoo, liberty memorial and the city jail may be the most visible cuts, but the largest chunk of money would come from getting rid of some 220 middle management employees, saving the city some 11 million dollars a year. Funkhouser says city government is burdened by the management with each supervisor overseeing on average three employees.

Funkhouser: In some cases we've got one. We've got one person supervising one person who supervises one person.

Despite these and numerous other smaller cuts, Funkhouser is looking at funneling more bucks to some departments and services.

Funkhouser: My priorities for this budget for this year are summed up in four words streets, codes cops and kids.

Funkhouser wants to add some 10 million dollars for street maintenance, shore up the city's reserves, more fully fund pension and health insurance obligations and put 20 more police officers on the street. City Manager Wayne Cauthen acknowledges the city needs to make cuts but says the mayor's budget cuts too much too quickly.

Cauthen: I don't know if everybody wants to have a situation where were viewed as a community that's having financial situation and then were basically saying the city's closed.

For their part, city council members say the end result will likely be a middle road, embracing some of the Mayor's ideas and some of the city managers. The Council must adopt a budget by its March 27th meeting.

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