Proposed Kansas City Budget Would Tackle Dangerous Houses, Boost The Arts

Feb 12, 2016

The Kansas City Missouri City Council on Thursday received a proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 from Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte that would make big changes in vacant housing and boost funding for the arts.

The key proposal from the $1.5 billion budget would issue a $10 million bond to raze more than 800 dangerous houses, most of which sit east of Prospect Avenue.

Schulte says the city wants to move forward with this plan now because the city is expected to take in a 10-year-high in revenue over the next fiscal year.

"The economy has recovered to a point where we can make this investment," Schulte said. "And get it done all a one time as opposed to taking 8 - 10 years to demolish the structures." 

The city currently owns about a fourth of the buildings that are slated for destruction. Schulte says the city is willing to sell dangerous houses it owns for renovation and offer rebates for successful rehabilitation. 

"We will sell a house for as low as $1, and when it's owner occupied, we'll rebate the cost of what we would've otherwise paid for demolition," Schulte said. "What I hope to see happen is, if the worst houses in a neighborhood are eliminated, or rehabbed, it will encourage other investment."

The budget assumes that voters will renew Kansas City's earnings tax this April, which makes up about 40 percent of the city's general fund. Schulte says if it doesn't get renewed, the dangerous houses and many other portions of the budget won't move forward. 

If it is renewed, those funds would go towards paying back the $10 million bond.

In addition to vacant housing, Schulte and James' budget would also boost the following arts projects and organizations: 

  • an increase of $100,000 in funding for the American Jazz Museum
  • an additional $12,587 for the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Arts Center 
  • two new positions (one full-time and one part-time) at the Kansas City Museum
  • an increase of $125,000 in funding for the Kansas City Film + Media Office. 
  • an additional $100,000 in funding for the Office of Culture and Creative Services (OCCS) for staff and services for the Arts Convergence Plan 

There's also a $250,000 decrease in funding for Kansas City Zoo, and a $99,521 decrease for Liberty Memorial. The city reports that both organizations had increased attendance last year, including a record 907,000 visitors to the zoo.

The budget next goes before the City Council's business session on February 18, and through a series of neighborhood and public hearings in February and March. The adoption of the budget ordinance is scheduled for March 24. (You can find a searchable edition of the budget here).