Earlier this month Kansas City, Missouri, residents raised their own property taxes for 20 years in part to help pay for federally-required improvements to public buildings under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Mandates like these, which come without any federal dollars, often fall on the backs of local taxpayers. That’s the message city councilman Jermaine Reed had for lawmakers in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
“Now let me be clear, that these programs are important and include many benefits to our community but without the adequate funding ... they leave our city helpless to meet the federal needs and to balance our local budgets,” Reed said.
He told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that complying with unfunded federal mandates means diverting money from the city budget that has already been allocated for other city needs. Too often, he said, those additional costs unfairly burden the city's poorest residents.
Reed cited the wastewater and water quality standards set in the Clean Water Act. In order to comply, Kansas City in 2009 implemented a Smart Sewers Program to address more than 100 different sewer projects across the city.
“So how do we do that and make sure we’re taking care of the 101 separate projects that we have and of course, the cost to the city of $4.5 or 5 billion?” Reed asked the panel.
That $5 billion price tag has largely fallen to Kansas City taxpayers, who have seen big increases in water fees.
“The average monthly bill has more than doubled, from $48 in 2009 to nearly $101 today, with major burdens on our elderly and low income citizens,” Reed says.
Several members on the committee agreed.
"If Congress has an idea really worth doing, we should pay for it," Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Virginia, said at the hearing.
Reed urged Congress to include cities and municipalities in conversations before handing down mandates so they have the opportunity to balance their budgets and provide for the needs of their citizens.
Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.