Interim administrator gives view of UG budget

Interim Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee has given her perspective on the 2023 budget that passed the Unified Government Commission on Thursday, Sept. 15.

According to a UG spokesman, the budget went through an extensive public process and is one step in the “UG Forward” initiative that reimagines the UG for the enxt 25 years through a comprehensive assessment and reevaluation of operations. The $432 million budget addresses four priorities: invest in the streets; provide tax relief; foster innovation and resiliency; and invest in the parks.

“Change is hard and it takes time,” Harrison-Lee said. “The Unified Government is at a crossroads and the 2023 Budget represents a new day. While every issue cannot be solved within a single budget cycle, this budget process has taught us what it will take to protect the financial integrity of our organization.”

Twenty-five years ago, in April 1997, the people of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County, Kansas, voted to unify their local government with the promise of better coordination of operations and more efficient service delivery for our residents and businesses, all while achieving cost savings. To an extent, this goal has been realized—more than 20 mills have been cut from tax bills for Kansas City, Kansas, residents since unification and Wyandotte County continues to have one of the lowest county mill rates in the state, according to the UG.

With new leadership and emphasis on fiscal and organizational accountability and improvement, UG Forward is the initiative to structurally reimagine the organization for greater efficiency and better customer service. Following extensive community outreach and engagement, the following priorities were identified for the upcoming budget year, starting Jan. 1, 2023:

  1. “Invest in our streets: With 72% of the community ranking streets as the most important community service across all eight commission districts, a recurring theme in the biannual community survey. The 2023 budget includes an increase in the street preservation budget of 25% to a total allocation of $8.5M with a target of improving the Pavement Condition Index to a rating of 65 by 2038.
  2. “Provide tax relief: The county will benefit from a 2 mill reduction in the 2023 budget, the first county-side mill reduction since 2009. This will be a relatively nominal reduction for all county taxpayers, whether they live in Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, or Kansas City, KS, as the Unified Government only accounts for 46% the tax bill with other jurisdictions (community college, schools, state, etc.) making up the rest of the cost to taxpayers. This reduction will give taxpayers a savings of $41/year for residential properties valued at $150K and $267/year savings for commercial properties valued at $500K.
  3. “Foster innovation and resiliency: Through UG Forward, the Unified Government will continue its focus on tackling the challenges of working together as an organization with the goal of building organization-wide strategies to transform the way we operate. We will invest in capacity-building among our staff through better training, provide cost of living increases for union and non-union staff, look to increase our competitiveness as an employer, and foster a culture of excellence. To help the Unified Government stabilize its financial future, we must grow as a community. A consultant will soon be selected to develop an economic development strategic plan to help define an equitable path forward in our growth. The 2023 budget sets aside $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for future grant matches, enabling us to pursue more competitive federal funding to support our shared vision and goals.
  4. “Invest in our parks: A shift of a ¼ mill from the County General Fund to the Parks General Fund will enable the Unified Government to increase recreation programming, extend the hours of our community centers, and launch a city beautification pilot initiative. Throughout the budget process, the community expressed the desire to have better access to walking and biking trails, park equipment, and youth, adult and senior services while addressing blight.”

While the 2023 budget process may be wrapping up, this is the first of many future steps forward. The City General Fund, for example, has a structural deficit, expenditures exceed revenue, so additional strategic financial planning is needed to establish long-term sustainability.

“We are charting a path forward that focuses on our residents first and embraces proven best practices by implementing a structural reimagining of the Unified Government,” Harrison-Lee said. “One thing is clear to me from my time as Interim County Administrator – Wyandotte County residents are uniquely ‘Dotte,’ with an irreplicable hometown pride, and there are no challenges we cannot overcome.”

Harrison-Lee outlined several action items as next steps to continue laying the foundation during this transition period. Mayor Tyrone Garner has convened a community search committee as part of the process to hire a permanent county administrator. Over the next several months, work will continue on the organizational assessment and realignment, implementing several “low hanging fruit” recommendations from the consultant teams, training and collaborating with staff and community for continuous improvement.

To read the county administrator’s budget message, including recommended next steps now that the budget has been adopted, visit https://www.wycokck.org/Engage-With-Us/News-articles/2023-Proposed-Budget-for-Review.

To learn more about the ongoing organizational assessments and other work underway, visit wycokck.org/UGForward.

To see an earlier story about the budget, visit http://www.wyandottedaily.com/ug-commission-approves-432-million-budget/.

The meeting is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbjOWC4Au5U.

One thought on “Interim administrator gives view of UG budget”

  1. Since the forming of the “Unified Gov.”, taxes have increased on the county side and services have decreased for those residents outside of Kansas City (Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, and the unincorporated portion of the county)

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