Kansas City Mayor Sly James used his State of the City address Tuesday to outline his priorities for a probable second term, which include reducing crime, improving education and revitalizing the urban core.
He says Kansas City must begin budgeting for costly infrastructure improvements that have been ignored for too long.
"We have a backlog of deferred maintenance, and my priority is to deal with it," James said Tuesday in his speech at Starlight.
"It sounds like a lot, but it's short – way short," James said, adding that the industry benchmark for a city of Kansas City's size would require an investment of more than $200 million a year.
James says Kansas City won't solve the problem moving around $5 million a year. Instead, he says, the city must come up with a long-range strategy that could ultimately involve a tax increase.
Revitalization of urban core could take 15-20 years
James would also like to see continued development east of Troost. In his State of the City speech last year, he highlighted a new Aldi's grocery story planned for 39th and Prospect, as well as the new police campus at 27th and Prospect.
But there's still lots of work to be done.
"This is going to be a long-term strategic and holistic approach," James said. "Now is the time to develop on the developments east of Troost that we discussed last year."
James says it won't take five years to turn around the neighborhoods on the city's east side, but 15 or 20. He says incentives are necessary to draw businesses to the urban core.
"The cost of doing business is greater, and the profit margins are bigger," he says. "They have to be incentivized to move there."
James says neighborhood improvement must include programs for youth. He pointed out that there are no movie theaters in Kansas City east of the Plaza and says young people need those spaces to hang out with their friends and be teenagers.
Kansas City needs schools that work
James also used his speech to express disappointment in a failed partnership between Kansas City Public Schools and Academie Lafayette, a French immersion charter school.
"I implore our city's educational leaders to open their minds, open their hearts to collaborations between charter schools and our public school district," James said.
He thinks public schools and charter schools can do more to share their successes and improve education in the city as a whole.
"We need to set aside adult politics. Most especially, we need to set aside racial politics," James said. "And we need to talk and work together to provide the best classrooms and the best education that we possibly can for every child in this city regardless of race, zip code or socioeconomic status."
Crime rates need to fall still further
James wrapped up his speech with high praise for two people — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Police Chief Darryl Forte, who he praised for working in concert with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance to bring the murder rate down to a 42-year low.
"Now certainly 2014 was a turning point for violent crime in Kansas, but I'm not satisfied, Chief (Darryl Forte)'s not satisfied, nobody's satisfied and you shouldn't be satisfied," James said. "None of us should be. There's a lot of work to be done, and much of it centers on gun violence."
James, who has long advocated for local control of gun laws, says it's time for politicians in Jefferson City to understand that what works in rural Missouri is bad policy in Kansas City and St. Louis.
Against a backdrop of Kansas City's child victims of violence – like 6-year-old Angel Hooper, gunned down last fall at a gas station – James made a plea for what he calls "sensible" gun reform.
"The time is now to get guns out of the cars of young gangbangers, out of the hands of felons and out of the hands of the mentally unstable," James said. "We no longer have idiots shooting other idiots, they're killing our kids and destroying our families."