Last week, finance committee leader Deb Hermann announced that KCMO may face a $80 million budget shortfall in 2009.
This is going to lead the city to have to make very difficult budget decisions for next year. I'm sure, over time, I'll have some suggestions for the city on places to cut.
However, as the city makes hard decisions on the cuts, there are a couple of things I think they should keep in mind.
We should keep in mind how it is that we've gotten in this situation. I detailed it here, but the nutshell of it is, KCMO has had a declining population for the past 40-50 years. The rising costs of services, the increasing infastructure needs aver decades of deferred maintenance, and the fact that much of the populaiton growth in the city is coming in the northland that requires all new infastructure has led to much of our financial problems. As we make decisions on where to make cuts, we must do so with the idea that if we want to fix this problems long term, we MUST work toward increasing the number of people who live in Kansas City, MO. We need to increase the tax base, to fill up empty homes and neighborhoods and spread out the infastructure costs across more people.
I mentioned some of the things that can improved upon to encourage people with options to move to KC in the short term in posts here and here. If we could focus our efforts on getting people to move (and stay) in KCMO, we should focus our budget efforts on:
1) Stopping crime -- the KCMO police department has asked for 60 new officers for next year -- we should do this, even if it takes even more money out of other budgets.
2) Improving schools -- this doesn't even require more money, it just requires the school district to do their job better and be better stewards of the money they're given.
3) Increasing jobs.
The city should also continue to look for other revenue streams -- including private and corporate donations for parks, advertising opportunities, selling off abandoned city owned properties (there are many that are complete eyesores), etc.
But the goal should be to cut budgets and programs that are less important in attracting new residents, and improving programs that are keeping people away. Meanwhile, it is the things that keep people away that make life tougher for the people who do live here. But we must increase the population base of KCMO in order to afford the infastructure improvements we so badly need....or the budget cuts will just keep coming. And it will be impossible to cut our way to prosperity.