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Infrastructure, E-Tax And Blight On Citizens' Minds At Kansas City Public Budget Hearing

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Cody Newill
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KCUR 89.3
Members of the Kansas City Council listened to residents' concerns about the 2016-2017 budget Saturday morning.

Several dozen Kansas City residents went to the city's first public budget hearing for the 2016-2017 budget Saturday morning, and most who testified had the same three things on their minds: infrastructure, blighted houses and the city's earnings tax. 

City council members listened to the residents' testimony for more than an hour at the Kansas City, Missouri, Regional Police Academy. Keith Nelson of the North Bennington neighborhood in the Northland told council members that infrastructure needs had been neglected for too long.

"None of our elementary or middle schools have sidewalks running up to them," Nelson said. "We have an economic divide just like the rest of the city. In the area I live in, we've been waiting 65 years for some of our infrastructure needs."

1st District Councilwoman Heather Hall said basic city services are a big priority for this year's budget, which has some of the strongest revenue projections in the past decade.

"People want a good quality of life," Hall said. "They're not looking for sexy (projects); they're looking for focused, real infrastructure."

Several other residents voiced concerns over an initiative to demolish more than 800 dangerous houses throughout the city. Gregg Lombardi, executive director of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, told council members that bulldozers weren't the way to solve blight and crime in the city.

"When you demolish a building, you create a liability for the city," Lombardi said. "When you rehab, you create an asset for the city."

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Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Anita Dixon with the Mutual Musicians Foundation appealed to council members to consider more funding for her organization.

5th District Councilwoman AlissiaCanady told audience members she supports a concerted effort to renovate as many of those buildings as possible.

"We've heard consensus that we need to focus on neighborhoods," Canady said. "Rehabilitation is the best course, but limited funding to do that makes it difficult."

Several council members also mentioned the city's earnings tax, which is up for a renewal vote on April 5. The tax makes up 40 percent of the city's general fund, a large portion of which goes toward public safety.

If the tax isn't renewed, the city would have to make major adjustments to the $1.5 billion budget.

The city plans to hold two more public budget hearings in coming weeks. The next hearing will be at the Kansas City Police Department East Patrol building at 2640 Prospect on Feb. 27. 

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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