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From snow removal to housing, Kansas City Manager Brian Platt wants to focus on the basics

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Two large snow plows push snow off a street as snow falls around them.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City snowplows clear the streets near UMKC the morning of Feb. 17.

Kansas City’s new snow removal process has been tested as the city experienced several snowy days in recent weeks.

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt says some of the biggest challenges facing Kansas City include the shortage of affordable housing, homelessness, public safety and basic city services.

“That's anything from filling potholes to snow removal, to making sure trash is picked up, preparing streetlights,” he told Up to Date on Friday. “All the basic stuff — those little things go a really long way.”

The city council confirmed Platt for the job in late 2020. Since then, he has faced a daunting array of challenges: crafting a city budget in the face of severe revenue shortfalls, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the housing and homelessness crisis.

In the past year, his office has focused on initiatives like improving the city’s snow removal plan, fashioning a cold-weather emergency plan for unhoused residents and creating more bike lanes.

Basic services

Kansas City’s new snow removal process has been tested as the city experienced several snowy days in recent weeks.

Platt said the city is taking a more proactive approach to snow removal. That includes pre-treating roads with a new kind of salt that Platt says works in lower temperatures and is less corrosive to cars.

Snow plows are now using GPS technology and digital plow maps to improve operations and guide drivers.

“We've got more neighborhood street snow removal operations,” Platt said. “We really didn't used to do a lot of snow removal on neighborhood streets. And now our policy and approach is we're doing these the same as we do any other road — we're plowing curb to curb and our trucks are out there until the snow is totally clear.”

Some residents say the city is still too slow plowing their streets. Platt said the rule of thumb is to assess street conditions 24 to 36 hours after the snowfall ends.

“At that point, we should have most of our streets cleared,” Platt said. “There will always be slick spots. There will always be some challenges no matter what type of storm you've got at that point. But that is the point in time where we should be saying to ourselves, ‘How did we do?’”

The fading of winter, however, comes with another headache for Kansas City residents: potholes. Platt said the city is working on solutions to more efficiently fill potholes when they appear, including implementing new technology to identify where they’re located.

Another solution the city is working on to prevent potholes in the first place: Better quality streets and increasing street resurfacing, Platt said.

“Our goal this year is 300 miles of streets to be resurfaced — that's exponentially greater than we've ever done in history,” he said. “That means that instead of having streets that are deteriorating after every storm, and creating potholes that we then have to fill, we're getting nice, new, smooth streets that are not only more comfortable to drive on, but take a lot more to create a pothole inside of them.”

Housing and homelessness

In the past year, encampments of unhoused residents outside City Hall and in Westport have drawn more attention to a growing homelsesness problem in the city and how to address it.

The city has implemented a new plan for unhoused people in the winter. It includes a public dashboard showing updated numbers on available shelter beds across the city, opening up emergency shelters when there aren’t enough beds available and using warming buses.

“We have our outreach workers visiting homeless camps around the city and in that immediate urgent need, we can dispatch the warning buses to that location,” Platt said. “And those buses also serve as transportation. They'll bring people to warming centers and shelter and housing options as well.”

Platt said the city is working on longer-term solutions too, like turning motels into transitional housing for unhoused residents. One motel is up and running. Platt said the city has helped more than 100 unhoused people through that transitional housing program.

In addition to offering shelter, Platt said people staying at the motel have access to support services.

“It could be mental health support, it could be housing placement assistance, it could be helping them with paperwork so they can apply for a job,” he said. “It's so many things that people need out on the streets and, you know, usually the thought is people would stay there for a few months until they find that next housing option. But at least they're not living in a tent on the street.”

Platt said the city is currently working on transforming a second motel.

Budget 

Kansas City officials are in the midst of reviewing the budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. It’s the second budget Platt has been involved with, and at $1.9 billion it’s bigger than in previous years.

“We've got funding and investments for new equipment, more snow removal vehicles, street sweepers to keep our streets clear, additional trash and litter collection, and resurfacing 300 miles of streets,” Platt said.

The Kansas City Police Department makes up the biggest chunk of the budget. At $269 million, it’s the largest of all city departments funded by general revenue. Missouri law requires Kansas City to allocate 20% of its general fund to the KCPD. The current budget allocates nearly 43% of the general fund to the police department.

Platt said the city focused on how many additional officers the city could fund – an estimated 150.

“We're hoping not only to add more officers, but also to give raises for those existing officers that have been here, particularly those who've been here for a long time,” he said.

The council must approve the budget at its meeting on March 24. Platt said he doesn’t anticipate anything that would prevent the budget from passing.

Development 

Platt said there are several development initiatives the city is pursuing. There’s RebuildKC, a grant program to support and fund neighborhood improvement projects.

Recently, the Downtown Council released its Imagine Downtown KC Plan for 2030, which, among other things, addresses how downtown should relate to nearby neighborhoods. Residents who live near downtown have voiced concerns about the potential negative impact that increased development could have on adjacent neighborhoods.

Platt said that’s the challenge — identifying residents’ most pressing priorities and finding the resources to address them while the city pursues big-ticket developments.

“That's a conversation we need to have if we're going to be thinking about rebuilding infrastructure downtown, and yet we still have got issues with crime and our murder rate, and we have a high need for affordable housing,” Platt said.

One possible big-ticket item is a downtown baseball stadium. Platt declined to say whether he would support tax incentives to help fund it.

“If we're going to spend a billion dollars on a stadium downtown, we have to make sure that if the city is going to contribute to it, that we're not taking money from other places and other urgent needs to fund things,” he said. “We need to make sure the funds are going to all places.”

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As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives.
As Up To Date’s associate producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
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