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Kansas City Mayor Promises No Job Cuts Despite A Tough Budget Year

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas delivers his State of the City address Wednesday night from the stage in Winnetonka High School.

The proposed budget includes cuts to arts organizations and leaving vacant city jobs unfilled.

Amid a city budget wrecked by the pandemic, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas called for austerity and fiscal prudence during his 2021 State of the City address Wednesday.

The city is staring down a projected $70 million revenue shortfall, although the proposed budget gets that number down to $15 million. Lucas said he wouldn’t cut city jobs or reduce essential services. And while the police budget is not exempt from reductions, Lucas didn’t embrace calls from some activists to defund the department.

Lucas also addressed the city’s grim homicide rate. Last year he set a goal the city failed to reach — fewer than 100 murders. Lucas said he’s not giving up on that pledge.

“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,” Lucas said.

Lucas took on a somber tone during the roughly 40-minute speech, addressing a city hurting. He remembered those lost to the coronavirus, including the death of sign language interpreter Michelle DeMartino’s two parents this week. DeMartino, like at many past city press events, stood by the mayor and interpreted his speech.

“She still came today because she wanted to share our message with all of you,” Lucas said. “But, I say to her: we grieve for you and your family, and we will never stop working to keep others from experiencing the pain that you and your loved ones have had to endure.”

The proposed budget reduces the revenue shortfall — although the city is still expecting to lose $15 million over the next year. Lucas wants to save money by leaving most vacant jobs unfilled, cutting nonessential city travel, offering voluntary early retirement to some staff and selling off unused city property like Hale Arena. His proposal, which needs approval from the city council, would also reduce funding for organizations including the Black Archives of Mid-America, Legal Aid of Western Missouri and ArtsKC.

Lucas’ promise not to cut city jobs extended to the police department, and he said it was critical to ensure cost-cutting measures don’t affect 911 calls.

“As a councilman and mayor, I voted to increase the police budget each year,” Lucas said. “I support our rank and file’s hard work for our community each day, and that’s why we will continue to seek cost-savings alternatives, such as grants and policing collaborations, and further exploring the KCI policing issue.”

The mayor also mentioned the city’s role in ensuring citizens get access to the COVID-19 vaccine. He touted the health department’s process for signing up people without internet access, and he said the city will “continue to demand” more doses. He also defended his decision to close down non-essential businesses early in the pandemic.

“No mayor wants to cancel weddings, graduations, or to see our small, locally-owned businesses suffer,” Lucas said. “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.”

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