Coronavirus Threatens To Furlough Kansas City Workers, But Curbside Recycling Remains Intact
Furloughs are likely coming for Kansas City workers, as the Kansas City Council deals with the hit to the city budget caused by the coronavirus. But the budget cuts have spared curbside recycling pickup, at least for now.
The city finance department painted a grim picture last week, showing revenues in April and May that were slightly lower than their worst-case prediction, which means the city needs to cut about $50 million from the current budget and nearly $60 million from next year’s budget.
“Unfortunately, this is not going to be easy for us, and it’s only going to get worse for us as we move forward,” said Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw.
To help provide immediate budget relief, the committee passed a one-week furlough for all city staff, with the exception of the firefighters, police, health and water departments. They also voted to expand a hiring freeze of any position making $15 an hour or more. The previous freeze applied to any position making $20 an hour.
Combined, the expanded freeze and the furloughs would save the city $7 million this fiscal year.
In June, city departments were asked to cut their budgets by 4.5 percent, which resulted in a potential $26 million in savings. Proposed reductions included personnel and holding off on several proposed development projects.
Among the most contested cuts was a proposal to cut recycling pick up to biweekly rather than weekly — a move that would have saved about $2 million.
John Wood, Director of Neighborhoods and Housing Services, says his department received fierce opposition to the idea and tried to identify other cost cutting measures including reduced mowing and maintenance of vacant lots managed by the Land Bank of Kansas City, Missouri.
But councilwoman Melissa Robinson argued that those reductions would disproportionately target already blighted neighborhoods.
“A lot of these properties related to mowing they have a direct correlation not only with blight but the crime the violence all of those things,” Robinson said.
Reducing recycling pick-up to twice a month wouldn’t reduce the amount residents can recycle. Robinson said they would simply have to find alternate containers and a place to store their recyclables.
Kansas City officials have discussed ways to make the city’s recycling program less expensive. Department heads say the move to every-other-week pickup may eventually be inevitable, but any policy change should also involve a one-time city investment to purchase larger recycling bins with lids.
City officials argue that investment would essentially wipe out any savings from reducing pickup now. First District Councilwoman Heather Hall said overhauling the city’s recycling program is “is exactly what we need to do.”
“But I don’t think it can happen in the next 30 days because of the sheer magnitude of education and funding needed to make those bins happen,” Hall said.
The committee ultimately decided to leave the recycling program intact and retain the mowing schedule for Land Bank properties.
Kansas City resident Terrence Nash, who testified before the finance committee, criticized the council for only considering cuts to basic services, rather than other city amenities.
“This proposal doesn’t have any cuts for stadiums, convention hotels, entertainment districts, parking garages, streetcar allocations. Where’s those cuts?” Nash asked.
Hall also decried the cuts to programs like trash and recycling, when the city has nearly 2,000 vacant properties it could lease to generate revenue.
She suggested that the city conduct an audit of its assets.
“We’ve got a lot of problems that we’re going to be saying to people, ‘You’re going to have have to deal with (this),’ and I don’t think that’s fair to them because they’re doing their part by paying their taxes. The least we can do is do our part by being creative,” Hall said.
The Kansas City Police Department will only have to cut half as much as other departments. The department has not disclosed how it will enact the $5.4 million reductions, but Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, sent a memo to the police department's leadership on July 3, outlining several suggestions that would allow the force to maintain its current number of officers.
Without cuts to the Neighborhoods and Housing Department, the city will save $24 million, but still need to identify more than $25 million in additional savings this year or face even deeper cuts in 2022.
The city manager will report back to the city council in one week to outline a plan for furloughs, but city finance director Tammy Queen expects that employees can spread that week out across the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in April. That means employees could take the unpaid time in single days or even in hour-increments.
Wednesday’s discussion comes months after neighboring cities took immediate measures to save money anticipating an economic decline. Back in March, the city council passed a $1.7 billion budget based on revenue projections from before the pandemic.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the Neighborhoods and Housing Service's Department was not subject to any reductions. That department will still face cuts, but not to its recycling program.
Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.