Candidates for Unified Government offices were asked a question at a candidate forum Monday afternoon on how the UG’s $87 million in federal funds should be spent.
So far, the UG has received about half of the $87 million amount, and is scheduled to receive the other half next year, according to a recent UG meeting.
The question was one of many topics at the candidate forum, which was sponsored by Business West and Kansas City Kansas Community College.
Some of the other topics covered included the Safe and Welcoming ordinance, property taxes and other issues. The forum was on Zoom and is being posted to YouTube and also broadcast to the KCKCC cable television channel.
Mayoral candidates respond
Mayor David Alvey said it will be based on community input, trying to replace lost revenues the UG lost during the past year. The UG was not able to hire a class of police officers, and he would like to provide funding for it. He also said the murder rate is down by about a third and shootings into dwellings are down by about a third from last year.
The UG will conduct a public hearing, to find the priority of the community in distributing the funds, he said. There were a lot of social service providers who have needs and received funding and businesses that received loans over the past year, he said. They have to make sure they get the funds to the right place, he said.
Personally, he thinks the UG needs to put more money to infrastructure. As Wyandotte County’s infrastructure continues to deteriorate and fall apart, it will discourage investment, he said. In the long term replacing the infrastructure will be catalytic, he said. He supports more money for infrastructure.
The UG has scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29, during a UG meeting to gather public opinions on what to do with the $87 million.
Janice Witt said the funds should immediately go into property tax relief and help with seniors and youth who may be struggling.
Chris Steineger agreed that tax reduction is a priority. The federal government has probably put strings on how the $87 million is spent and most likely they don’t allow tax reductions, he said. Most likely the UG would have to replace revenue, cut taxes with local government revenue and use federal funds as replacement. He doesn’t favor spending more money than the UG is already spending. The UG would have to use its own money for property tax relief.
The funds could be used to stimulate the economy, he said. When people are working, they have more money in their pockets and self-destiny, he said. The shutdown of businesses resulted in increase in crime around the nation, he believes.
Tyrone Garner said they need to educate the community on what is in that plan, what it entails. Wyandotte County has one of the largest percentages of poverty in the metro area, homelessness, loss of jobs, and people are struggling with utility bills. He also said they should look at small businesses and see how to leverage these funds and bridge it into jobs for individuals who have lost jobs, and look at educational opportunities for children. He also mentioned infrastructure.
He said he would like to see a blue-ribbon panel come together of key stakeholders and discuss a solution with citizens, of what works best in Wyandotte County.
Daran Duffy said they should find out the people most vulnerable. A lot of elderly are struggling, some are on fixed incomes, and he suggested adjusting their BPU bills. Also, talking with retired veterans, there are a lot who are really struggling in the county, he said. The community needs to back them, thank them and support them, he said.
He also said some fire stations are showing disrepair and have needs. It’s really important to take a look at what fire and police need, he said. He also mentioned crime prevention.
Commission candidates comment on windfall
Commissioner Tom Burroughs, 2nd District at large, said there were front-line health and public safety workers who put their lives at risk during the pandemic, and some were forced to work overtime. He favors a bonus to those workers. It would send a strong message to those workers that they are partners in this project, he said.
Also, funds should go to backfill some of the lost revenue, he said. They are discussing it now, with more discussion planned later.
Ned Kelley, a candidate for 2nd District at large, said he doesn’t want to spend the $87 million. He wants to make it as difficult for the UG to spend the taxpayers’ money as possible. He wants to reduce as many spending projects as possible to make the funds last to cut taxes going forward, he said.
Baseball fields, parks and programs are needed, but they could do a better job with organizations such as the YMCA, he said.
“I want you to keep your own darn money,” he said.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend, 1st District, said she is in the process of asking community leaders their priorities for spending the $87 million. She said she encourages everyone to participate in the public hearing this Thursday.
She would like to see money put toward housing, bills, for people displaced from jobs and homes, food, also for infrastructure. Infrastructure for years has been in need of upgrade, she said. There will be other ideas, but these are basic needs, she added. Regardless of what district people live in, everyone uses the streets, she said.
Candidate Melvin Williams, running for 1st District, said he understands Wyandotte County is in need of a lot of things, but the 1st District is in need of everything. He personally would take the money and put it back into Parkwood Pool, updating it.
He would reach out to community leaders to see how best to use the money within the community, he said.
Commissioner Mike Kane, 5th District, said the UG should pay down some of the debt. They should get more social programs for kids, more counseling, and the UG should reopen the Parkwood Pool. He also said he’s not opposed to building a pool at Indian Springs.
If they don’t pay down the debt, and don’t provide something for the kids to do after school, then the kids get in trouble, he believes.
Commissioner Jane Winkler Philbrook, 8th District, said the $87 million is supposed to be spent for issues around backfilling on wages and expenditures that happened. They have had multiple meetings and will be having more, including one on Thursday night.
Although they will be limited on what they can spend it on, there are still things they can spend it on, she said. If they can take care of some of the overhead they had, it would be wonderful, she said. The UG would not be spending as much to fund those items over a time period.
Tscher “Cece” Manck, 8th District candidate, said she would support small businesses, and possibly use it for payroll. She would like to read over information about it and find out more about the legalities of it, she added.
Geoffrey Kump, 8th District candidate, said the funds need to take care of those who suffered most in COVID. He mentioned teachers, health care workers and first responders, who need hazard pay for the work they did during the COVID time.
Also, the UG needs to protect its small businesses. Every small business that had to shut down should have one month of their property tax paid, he said.
Also, use what they can to control some of the overhead in debt, he added, and build into the fund balance.
Andrew Davis, 8th District candidate, said the funds don’t hae to be spent until 2024, so there is time to do community by community meetings to find out the needs.
His priorities now would be UG front-line workers, stormwater infrastructure, Parkwood pool, revenue loss and other things. Before any money is spent they need a robust community engagement process, he said.
Candidate forums from Monday and Tuesday are on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/KCECable. They also will be shown on KCEC, cable television station. Several other issues are discussed in the forums, as well.