In one of his last public appearances as the mayor of Kansas City, Sly James fielded questions and talked about his eight years in office.
James was the guest speaker at Donuts with Dan hosted by councilman Dan Fowler earlier this month at the Kansas City Police Department North Patrol located on Prairie View Road.
The outgoing mayor — who even pulled out his phone and announced how many days in his term are left — talked about maintenance issues with trash and roads and the Buck O’Neil Bridge among many issues.
He called being the city’s mayor since 2011 the ‘professional highlight’ of his life.
Prior to taking questions from a capacity crowd in the community room, James gave an endorsement for Fowler in his re-election bid as the 2nd district council spot to represent Platte County.
Fowler didn’t mention anything about his campaign other than urging those present to vote June 18.
James spoke highly of Fowler.
“The only thing I can tell you about Dan … he is consistently looking out for the interest of his district,” James said. “I like working with people who can express their opinion, take a position and argue without being a total jerk and who I don’t have to go back and check every hour to see if they changed their position. That is important.”
A lot of the time James spent talking dealt with infrastructure, both good and bad. On the former was the city getting an $800 million general obligation bond passed to help out with a variety of projects.
Some of those projects — like improving the roads — was some of the ‘bad’ that James addressed and provided insight.
Two of the main topics were the Buck O’Neil Bridge, which is owned by the state of Missouri, and the numerous road issues.
James noted the city along with other local municipalities and TDD funds in the metro have raised $100 million to help pay for half of the cost needed to replace the bridge. MoDOT is supposed to cover the other $100 million.
“At the end of the day we have a $200 million bill that the state is only kicking in half,” James said.
Fowler added, “We are wondering if they will back out, they keep looking for a way out.”
Option two was a patch that would cost only $50 million but would close one of the main thoroughfares in the area for almost two years. James said that would just put more wear and tear on the Kit Bond Bridge and Heart of America Bridge, both of which would have issues after the increased traffic.
“The reality is we shouldn’t have to come up with $100 million,” James said. “It is not our (bridge) but if we want to make sure the people in the city aren’t totally inconvenienced for two years … we have enough things that separate us. We don’t need another and we need to get it done.”
One resident in attendance mentioned he moved to Florida in 2000 and returned last year.
Some things have gotten better, like more brew pubs, coffee shops and live concerts almost every night of the week. The downside, he said, is higher taxes and horrible roads.
“It is easy to tell people we need to take care of the streets and this is how much it will cost,” James said. “You don’t like taxes. A lot of people don’t, but we actually have winters and more cars on the roads than Florida. The problem is deferred maintenance and no one really wanted to come up with the money.”
James noted Kansas City has more highway and street miles than anywhere else in the United States with 6,300 miles of highways.
Add in a winter that had more snow fall than the past six winters combined turned into a pothole hell for the public works and those that monitor the 311 phone line and online requests.
“We had a bad winter,” James said. “It killed the streets and we are paying for it.”
When James took office he was told there was $6 billion in infrastructure needs in the city. During the previous recessions, money moved around from different funds to keep the city afloat and bills getting paid and sometimes the street maintenance funds took a hit.
“We have more infrastructure to take care of and we got more infrastructure than we got dollars,” James said. “Streets are being addressed as much it can be addressed. When we talk about almost a million dollars a block, we don’t have that kind of money.”
Here’s a rundown of other comments by James:
“We learned we can’t wait for the federal government, who is engaged in mortal combat,” James said. “We can’t wait for the state legislature. They are wandering in the desert looking for manna to save us. If we want our city to be what our city has to be, we will have to do it ourselves. They aren’t helping us. In fact, they are fighting us. They are trying to impose an ideology on us that will serve to keep them in power rather than recognize that we are an economic engine that provides them with a mammoth amount of tax dollars every year. It doesn’t make sense to me but that is exactly what happened.”
“We will continue to deal with infrastructure, roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks, water infrastructure and we have to be careful of the budget. We will have a recession in the next decade. This economy won’t stay. Tradition and history says it can’t be maintained and there will be some sort of downturn. When you know you will have less money and how you will plan for it. It will have a huge impact on pensions. Pensions will be a major problem.
“People don’t want you messing with their pension and I get it. They relied on them but we got to do something different or it will drive us into the poor house.”
“You can lower your taxes, but be ready to have services cut. No way to talk about it any other way. I can sit here and tell you what you want to hear, but I will tell you the truth. If you want stuff done, it has to be paid. We aren’t getting a damn thing out of Jeff City. If we didn’t have to come up with $100 million to fix the Buck O’Neil Bridge they own we could use money on more stuff.”