Kansas Citians got a good look last week at what priorities Mayor Sly James wants to pursue in his second term.
City Council candidates who hope to serve with James need to tell voters whether they agree with that vision or have different ones for the city’s future.
In Tuesday’s primary, voters will slim down the fields in the council races, leaving two candidates to face each other in the June 23 general election. Essentially, all of these council hopefuls will have the next 11 weeks to say where they stand on critical issues.
Voters will decide certain ones, such as the futures of Kansas City International Airport and the earnings tax. Examples of other matters that will land in council members’ laps:
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Infrastructure repairs: This could be among the most contentious topics to hit City Hall in 2016. James said the city funds $77 million a year on roads, snowplowing, public building repairs and bridge maintenance. But, he said, the city should spend $221 million annually to adequately fix infrastructure.
The mayor has discussed asking voters to approve a tax increase for up to $1 billion in bonds to help finance more repairs. But that would be a new burden on taxpayers, on top of soaring water and sewer bills.
Council candidates ought to point out specifics on how they want to provide more efficient city services to free up money for infrastructure upgrades.
Abandoned houses: The cancer of vacant buildings has spread throughout the East Side but also crept north of the river and into south Kansas City, too.
All City Council candidates are against abandoned housing, of course, yet few offer real solutions that go beyond demolition.
It would be useful to know how they would create new housing, for example. Council hopefuls should provide solid ideas on how public-private plans could bring more investment to the core. Or whether allocating more city funds for housing repairs could stop the slide toward mediocrity in certain neighborhoods.
East Side development: James points out that bringing new groceries and better transit to urban core neighborhoods is extremely important in creating jobs and a higher quality of life for residents.
Council candidates must focus on exactly how they might do that. One example: Can they offer specifics on how to finance a Prospect MAX bus line?
Another: Which council candidates will support cutting back on public incentives used to help woo businesses to already healthy parts of the city and more aggressively reward companies for locating to, say, the 18th and Vine area?
Northland growth: For years, residents in the city’s fast-growing section north of the Missouri River have issued various complaints about how they don’t get good boulevards, parks or other amenities.
Most council candidates say they’re all for building new east-west roads in the Northland, and supporting more housing and retail growth. Yet that’s not enough. Who has the best ideas on how the city can make sure these developments take place in an orderly fashion, not just with leap-frog growth and suburban-type sprawl?
The next City Council takes office on Aug. 1. Before that, the candidates will have plenty of time to offer their visions for creating a more vibrant Kansas City.
Mayor James will set the general agenda in a second term, but council members will play important roles in either pushing or opposing his priorities.
The Star’s recommendations
To see The Star’s recommendations in selected local contests on Tuesday, click here.