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Funk: 'If things were fine,
I wouldn't have run'

by Alan McArthur
Landmark reporter

There are many obstacles facing Kansas City in the coming years, but the mayor says he is ready for the next two years of his term.

The Landmark had an exclusive sit-down interview with Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser on Tuesday to discuss the issues facing Kansas City in Platte County.

For the Northland, Funkhouser said the main issues are improving arterial streets and roads, as well as other infrastructure.

“We have done incented growth without accurate planning to connect the growth,” said Funkhouser. “Instead of allowing growth slowly we stuck in big developments and then allowed there to be a two-lane blacktop road connecting them.”

One project in particular is the Barry Road Bridge at Weatherby Lake. The bridge was closed this summer because of structural issues. In September, Funkhouser spoke at the site urging city employees to work faster to get the job done.

“The project is moving faster than was expected,” said Funkhouser. “I think we are in fairly good shape.”

Funkhouser said he spoke with the mayor of Weatherby Lake, Gerald Bos, in January and Bos was okay with the pace of the project now.

Another issue facing the city is the payment of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) obligations over the next few years. The city collects taxes paid in TIF districts and then redirects the funds to be applied to paying bonds for capital improvements in the development districts.

“We are having a serious hangover from TIF,” said Funkhouser. “Last year we redirected $70 million in taxes to TIF payments, this year it is $110 million. It is the fastest growing area in the budget; already it exceeds several department budgets. Soon it will exceed the police budget.”

One of the campaign issues Funkhouser was elected on was reducing the number of TIF agreements approved by the city.

“The city is approving far fewer deals,” said Funkhouser. “And they're better deals now with performance measures. We are making sure we're protected in terms of risk.”

The city is also facing a budget shortfall and is attempting to balance the budget by reducing expenses.

Funkhouser said he has not made a decision on whether services will be reduced, but is expected to release information on Thursday, Feb. 12 about his recommendations.

“I haven't remotely made a decision yet,” said Funkhouser. “We are deep in the middle of grappling with the budget.”

Funkhouser said balancing the budget will have an impact on the different communities and some services to those areas.

Funkhouser said he would rather not just divide services equally, but look at each individual area and find out what they need the most to improve the residents' quality of life.

A recent defeat for the city was a proposed light rail starter line through Kansas City on the November ballot. Funkhouser said he was against the idea before being persuaded to support the initiative.

“What we proved in the election is light rail ain't going to work here. I argued against the starter line from 2006 to August 2008,” said Funkhouser. “I was persuaded by the newspaper (The Star) and the chamber of commerce that if we were going to get light rail, it was going to be now.”

“I switched my tune and was asked to be engaged in the campaign,” he said. “The bad news is it set us back in time because of the loss. The good news is we will never do that again, the starter line is dead. It has been beaten eight times, eight is enough.”

Funkhouser said he thinks a regional system needs to be presented as a whole project, not as a starter line. He also thinks a regional system needs to have a spinal cord of rail transit connected to other forms of transit in order to work.

“We need a regional system,” he said. “There needs to be a rail component and it needs to be regionally governed and funded. I am confident it will happen, but I'm unclear about the means or a timeframe.”

Funkhouser said that currently the ball for a regional system is not in his court. He said that the head commissioners of the three counties involved in the regional transit system talks are working to come up with a way to govern the proposed transit authority.

The commissioners working on the issue are Betty Knight, Platte County presiding commissioner; Ed Quick, Clay County presiding commissioner; and Mike Sanders, Jackson County executive.

The commissioners have been working together with other elected officials from cities in the three counties to come up with a regional transit system for the Missouri side of the metropolitan area with the possibility of connecting to Kansas in the future.

When asked about his first two years as mayor of Kansas City, Funkhouser said they have been “tumultuous.”

“Getting used to the celebrity aspect and having people examine everything,” said Funkhouser, “understanding how to manage that has been difficult.”

“You've got to get the message out, which is the reason why I've hired a PR firm. I thought I could just tell people what was going on. Having people understand what to do is enormously important. Even after a year into the job I would have people say they don't understand what my vision is.”

Funkhouser said he has been talking about his vision for the city since he began his campaign to run for mayor.

Funkhouser said the goal is to find a community leader who is passionate about an issue, then get a council member to take ownership of it and credit and then to let the issue go.

“Leadership is about getting people to do what they didn't think they could,” said Funkhouser. “I can't be the point guy for everything, it's a bad idea. I don't have enough time in the day.”

The controversy over his mayorship is not expected to be resolved over the next two years.

“I will always be controversial every second I am in office,” said Funkhouser. “I am trying to push change. I am trying to reverse 40 years of history. If I thought things were fine, I wouldn't have run for mayor. Change is hard.”



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