More than 50 Kansas City residents and community advocates showed up Saturday morning at the Mohart Multipupose Center near Linwood Boulevard and The Paseo to voice their ideas about how the city should prioritize its spending over the next five years.
The hearing was a departure from the usual format in which residents testify individually in front of a panel of city officials.
The morning began with a 'Pick Your Priorities' exercise where attendees voted live between sets of established priorities using electronic clickers.
In one round, they had 30 seconds to select which was more important — repairing sidewalks or creating a system of bike lanes. (Sidewalks won.)
After each round, they split up into smaller groups to discuss city priorities.
In every group, the city's vacant lots came up as a point of frustration.
Leslie Scott, a community activist with the Full Employment Council, suggested the city should create a fund to assist people who can't get bank loans to purchase vacant or abandoned lots so they can afford to renovate and actually live on their property.
"So that they can be in a condition where a person could actually live in it, not just provide for investors to come in and swoop these things up and be all these absentee landlords," Scott said.
Several residents were frustrated with the Land Bank program, saying it doesn't create opportunities for residents of blighted neighborhoods, who have less access to capital needed for major renovations.
Another recurring theme was the desire to give neighborhoods more control over what happens in their communities.
For Lynn Miller, that means holding residents responsible for keeping their own neighborhoods clean.
Rather than invest more money into monitoring illegal dump sites, she suggested creating an incentive program for neighborhoods that keep their sidewalks clean.
"If you keep your neighborhood clean, then we can reward you with tickets to go to the garden and get some free gardening supplies or free vegetables. Or you can go to the health department and instead of having to pay for a birth certificate you can get a birth certificate at no cost," Miller said.
In the end, participants voted the issue of vacant lots as the city's top budget priority.
This was the city's third budget planning hearing. The final hearing takes place Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Kansas City Health Department. Mayor Sly James will attend. Information gathered at the hearing will be used to help shape the city's budget priorities over the next five years.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.