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Kansas City Council Advances $1.7 Billion Budget In Spite of Quarantines, Technical Difficulties

Screenshot - Kansas City, Missouri
Most Kansas City councilmembers are voluntarily self-quarantining, after two members were potentially exposed to COVID-19. Still, they managed to advance a $1.7 billion budget proposal.

A Kansas City Council committee on Wednesday advanced a $1.7 billion city budget in a chaotic, difficult-to-follow meeting in which most of the committee was not physically present.

“Obviously this is unusual times, so we’re trying to continue the business of the people, but yet do it in a way that’s safe for all of us,” councilwoman Katheryn Shields said to begin the meeting.

Due to worries over a potential exposure to COVID-19 at a conference in Washington D.C., a majority of councilmembers on the committee are voluntarily self-quarantining. None of those councilmembers are currently reporting symptoms of the disease.

The meeting of the finance, governance and public safety committee began in fits and starts. Technical issues with a video conferencing app eventually led the committee to call an early recess in order to re-group. The only in-person participant was committee chair Katheryn Shields until Mayor Quinton Lucas appointed himself to the committee to help speed the process along.

Ultimately, the committee set up an audio conference call. Lucas put his cell phone on speaker and placed it in front of the microphone in the city council chambers.

Under those circumstances, the committee voted to advance a revised $1.7 billion budget.

Among changes passed Wednesday was a nearly $328,000 increase for tenant assistance.

The tenants’ bill of rights, which was drafted by advocacy group KC Tenants alongside the mayor’s office, passed overwhelmingly in December. Among other things, the legislation committed to “passing legislation to establish an adequately funded Division of Housing and Community Development.” 

But the mayor’s original budget proposal didn’t appropriate any funding to that end.

The changes include the creation of two tenant advocate positions, money for legal representation for renters, and funding for mediation between tenants and landlords.

The changes also increase $50,000 for probation officers to confiscate guns from domestic abusers who agree to turn over their firearms as part of their probation. It also boosts funding to historic building preservation.

The amendments decrease funding to Visit KC, the city’s tourism and conventions bureau. It also cuts $50,000 from the Police Chief’s office for the TIPS hotline, and moves $250,000 from mental health initiatives to Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Due to the poor sound quality from the speakerphone, it was difficult for viewers online to hear comments on the changes being proposed by the remote councilmembers.

Committee chair Shields also noted that the city still doesn’t know how the novel coronavirus pandemic will affect the city’s tax revenues.

“We’re probably not going to have all the money we’re appropriating right now to spend through this year,” Shields said.  

The budget includes a hiring freeze and reductions in travel except as authorized by the council.  

The only vote opposing the budget was First District Councilwoman Heather Hall.

The committee also passed an ordinance allocating $125,000 in emergency funding to keep beds open at homeless shelter reStart and a subsequent $125,000 if the nonprofit can raise private funding.

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and covers City Hall for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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