Dozens advocate in support of art, film at the first budget hearing of 2020
The first of three public comment sessions for the proposed annual City budget kicked off Saturday, Feb. 22 at Northgate Middle School and dozens expressed their concern at the cuts in funding for arts and film in Kansas City.
The $1.73 billion budget includes hiring more police and firefighters, funds for a “Pothole Czar,” $4.8 million to fund the majority of the City’s zero-fare transit plan and cuts to other areas, including arts and film.
In his Inaugural State of the City address, Mayor Quinton Lucas called this the most “equitable budget the city has seen,” but after the first public comment session, many in the community seem unhappy with where these funds have been allocated.
In a Facebook post, Mayor Lucas noted that, despite the $1.73 billion total budget figure, only 4.3 percent of that, roughly $74 million, is flexible, discretionary spending. Everything else has been spoken for.
The current budget expenses are broken up into five categories:
• Public Safety: $486.5 million
• Transportation and Infrastructure: $218.6 million
• Neighborhoods, Housing, and Healthy Communities: $210.7 million
• Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development: $142.2 million
• Finance and Governance: $117.4 million
Public Safety, the largest expense in the City’s budget, makes up 72 percent of the General Fund operating budget and 41.2 percent of the Governmental Activities budget, totaling $486.5 million.
Expenses for Public Safety in this year’s proposed budget increased $16.8 million (3.6 percent) from last year.
In response to the city’s violent crime problem, Mayor Lucas said the budget increases Kansas City Police Department funds by $10.7 million (4.1 percent), adding 10 new officers, two social media analysts, a social worker supervisor, and fully funds the current six social workers embedded at police stations currently.
“All that we’ve talked about doesn’t really matter unless we start to address the [crime] issue. Nothing matters if we lose another 148 of our sisters and brothers,” Mayor Lucas said in his State of the City address. “We can never stop caring about kids, parents, people who deserve a chance to grow old in our community.”
While more boots on the ground will not solve violent crime problems, he admitted, he pointed to the addition of more probation officers so convicted domestic abusers cannot keep firearms to terrorize, abuse, or murder their partners.
The proposed budget also increases the fire department expense $6.4 million (3.4 percent), most of which are for wages and benefits.
An addition of 15 firefighters is also included to match a federal grant to backfill Fire Station No. 40 in the Northland.
Kansas City voters will also have the opportunity this April to decide on a 1/4-cent Fire Sales Tax increase that would bring in $21 million per year.
This year, the City Council passed a resolution that directed acting City Manager Earnest Rouse to find room in the budget that would help fund the city’s zero-fare transit plan.
With the release of this proposed budget, $4.8 million of the $8 million needed has been allocated to fund free buses.
In his State of the City address, Mayor Lucas said BlueKC would also contribute up to $1 million in year one.
While this funds the majority of the money needed, it still falls short of the $8 million total.
Where exactly did the $4.8 million come from? A budget presentation given to City Council on Feb. 13, broke down the source of the funds:
• $2.3 million in Parks and Rec maintenance transferred to Parks
and Rec Fund
• $1.0 million in Street Preservation moved to Street Maint. Fund
• $500,000 from Public Mass Transportation Fund Reserves
• $413,000 increase to base RideKC agreement
• $196,000 from Employee Bus Passes
• $125,000 in Streetcar costs transferred to Streetcar Fund
• $120,000 in dockless scooter license revenue
• $97,000 in streetcar line maintenance to Street Maint Fund
• $15,000 by maintaining BikeKC flat at $175,000
“We are on track to launch zero-fare transit in Kansas City by this summer,” Mayor Lucas said.
Arts and Film
The proposed budget also includes cuts in funding to arts and film in Kansas City.
It completely eliminates the Office of Creative and Cultural Services (OCCS), which was established in 2015 with the mission of “bolstering and catalyzing arts, culture, and creativity and by leveraging the arts as a strategy for economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and cultural vitality for its citizens.”
OCCS programs include Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund, micro-loans for artists, the Film Development Program, and Open Spaces, a “two-month arts event that featured art installations in open spaces across the city, showcasing the city’s famed parks and boulevards, as well as urban spaces and existing arts and cultural venues.”
The budget also includes a $175,000 cut in funding for the Kansas City Film Office, which leads efforts to attract film, television, and new media productions to the area.
The cut will defund the KCMO Film Development Program local film rebate incentive, which previously brought “Queer Eye” and “American Ninja Warrior” to Kansas City.
Geoffrey Lind, an executive in charge of production at the ITV America at Queer Eye, wrote a letter upon hearing this proposed cut in funding.
“I believe this is a great error in judgment,” the letter reads. “I ask that you not only keep these invaluable programs but also consider expanding them. As a producer of countless TV shows, I’m always looking for city and state film incentives as well as a well-staffed TV and film office.”
One resident, quoting Mayor Lucas’ November 2019 interview with KC Studio, said “I think Mayor Lucas got it right when he said Kansas City without the arts is like barbecue without the sauce.”
Dozens of residents echoed the phrase, ending their two-minute speech in support of arts and film with “save the sauce.”
Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowman, executive artistic director at Kansas City Public Theatre, said she was concerned to hear about the budget cuts and the elimination of the OCCS.
“Kansas City has received quite a bit of national attention recently for having such a lively and supported arts scene, in fact, the arts sector is the third largest employer in Kansas City,” she said in an email to the Northeast News. “To eliminate these services shows a lack of understanding for what the arts do for the well-being of our city.
Personally, the Office of Culture and Creative Services has been instrumental in taking Kansas City Public Theatre from an idea to a reality. Before we had our first performance, we met with representatives of Culture and Creative Services to work with them in making connections with other artists, businesses, and to learn about what resources are available. Because of this, we were able to apply for the Neighborhood Tourism and Development Fund grant which helps us to pay the artists who work with us and helps stimulate tourism in our city. This grant is through the Office of Culture and Creative Services, and seems to be on the chopping block, as well.”
In a recent podcast interview with Mayor Lucas, he pointed to his childhood growing up homeless and being raised by a single mother and said that is where his focus lies— with those residents of the city.
“A lot of people who are engaged in the arts community have shown some discomfort with some changes we’ve needed to make based on a $4.4 million deficit on the convention center hotel. We are putting the money, I think, where it is most impactful and most needed.
“People say, ‘Lucas you should have the Open Spaces festival again for the arts.’ I’m willing to sit on the phone with other art lovers and we will raise private dollars to do it because they’ve been able for years and years to get millions of dollars of investment in those types of areas whereas we can’t get several hundred thousand dollars in this city budget to provide rental assistance for people that are on the cusp of becoming homeless.
“That’s money that’s not in the budget. So when people start yelling at me about the fact that there’s been some hit to an office that, frankly, can be supported from other sources, all I’m thinking about is the fact that that single mother right now may lose her apartment tomorrow… that’s what I’m worried about because they deserve somebody who cares about them for a few years,” said Mayor Lucas.
If residents would like a further look at the budget, please visit Open Budget KC at www.budget.kcmo.gov. For a chance of submitting your own budget proposal, please visit Balancing Act at www.kansas-city-mo.abalancingact.com.
So far, nearly 60 budget proposals have been sent to the Mayor and City Council.
The next two budget hearings are detailed here:
Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Southeast Community Center (4201 E. 63rd St) and Tuesday, March 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at KCMO Health Department (2400 Troost).