Thursday, March 25, 2010

KC officials, activists square off over "e-tax"

By Seann McAnally
 

Earnings tax or no earnings tax? 

That’s the question that was debated at a March 18 South Kansas City of Commerce luncheon. R. Crosby Kemper III, an anti-tax activist, and Troy Schulte, acting city manager of Kansas City, squared off in a polite but blunt discussion about the tax, which is 1 percent on paychecks from Kansas City businesses. It is paid by the employee.

 
Meanwhile, a petition to abolish the tax, led by St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield, is making the rounds in an attempt to get a repeal of the tax onto a statewide vote. 


Dee-Dee Stokes, president of the chamber and the owner of Affordable Elegance, said the purpose was to “educate and inform.” 


“The chamber, at this point, is taking no sides on the issue,” Stokes said. 


Vickie Wolgast, executive director of the chamber, said the chamber may take a position eventually. 


“We will discuss it,” she said. “We haven’t brought that before the board.” 


Kemper is, among other things, chairman of the Show-Me Institute, a think tank that opposes the earning tax and suggests a land tax instead. 


Kemper said the earnings tax is bad for Kansas City.


“We should get rid of it,” he said. He said the Kansas City area is behind comparable Midwest cities like Indianapolis, Omaha, and Denver. 


“They are all experiencing better economic growth,” Kemper said. “Kansas City is not growing.” 


He acknowledged that there has been some growth north of the river, but that compared to the population, job growth has been small over the last few years. 


“There are about 5,000 new jobs in the Northland, but the population has grown by 50,000,” he said. “Those are bad numbers, and those jobs are mostly retail.” 


That slow growth can mean only one thing, Kemper said.


“Our economic development policies and our tax policies are wrong,” he said, adding that the earnings tax is just one piece of a flawed puzzle. He also blamed tax increment financing and the difficulty of doing business in Kansas City for slow growth. 


“It takes about six days in Johnson County (Kan.) to start business,” Kemper said. “It takes about six months in Kansas City.” 


Kemper pointed out that Kansas City is the only city in the Metro area with an earnings tax, and while 1 percent may not seem like much, people don’t like to pay it – especially if they work in Kansas City but live elsewhere. He said it was unfair to “export” a tax to the suburbs. 


“It’s impossible to tell why people move, but it’s fairly easy to understand that if there is a tax in one place but no tax in another, that will explain some of that movement,” he said. 


Troy Schulte, acting city manager, defended the earnings tax on pragmatic grounds. 


“It’s 45 percent of our operating budget and 16 percent of the overall budget,” he said. The bottom line, Schulte said, is that Kansas City can’t do without it right now. 


“I don’t like seeing that biweekly deduction out of my paycheck,” he said. “But the cure may be worse than the disease. Our sales taxes would roughly have to triple (to make up the difference).”


If the city shifted that tax burden onto land tax, he said, most of it would fall on the shoulders of the urban poor. He also pointed out that earnings tax programs are very common on the east coast, and in some Midwest states like Indiana and Ohio. 


Schulte said it’s important to remember that Kansas City has sprawl issues, with some 480,000 people spread across about 322 square miles. 


“Fewer people spread over a larger area means higher costs for police officers, firefighters, and infrastructure,” he said. “Those costs don’t go away simply by getting rid of the earnings tax.” 


Schulte said he doesn’t think the earnings tax issue is as important as Kemper and others make it out to be. 


“When I talk to local business leaders, it’s just not on the top of their list,” he said. “They talk about TIF, poor schools, crime problems…I don’t hear earnings tax consistently mentioned as a high priority.” 


Focusing on basic city services will help retain businesses and jobs, as well as attract new ones. 


“This is a healthy debate, but it’s more important to focus on basic city services and look at a more long-term strategy,” Schulte said. 


He said city officials were willing to have discussions about “tweaking” the tax, but “not wholesale revisions.” 


Schulte and Kemper agreed on a few key issues, however – that it needs to be easier for businesses, particularly real estate developers, to get through the permitting process at city hall. 


But at the end of the day, Schulte said, the money has to come from somewhere. 


“We have issues in Kansas City,” he said. “It takes money to fix those issues. How are we going to replace 45 percent of the city’s operations budget?”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Police make arrest in murder of SKC 7-11 clerk

By Seann McAnally

Police have made an arrest in the murder of a South Kansas City 7-11 clerk.

The Jackson County Prosecutors office on March 22 filed felony murder and armed criminal action charges against Phillip D. Martin, 19, of Kansas City. 


Martin’s fingerprints are on file with the Missouri Highway Patrol – those same fingerprints are on a canned drink left at the murder scene. 


Martin is currently in custody at the Jackson County correctional facility on a $500,000 bond. He was arraigned Tuesday in Jackson County circuit court. 


Just after 1 a.m. on March 17 Kansas City police officers responded to a call about a shooting at the 7-11 store, at 8105 E. Bannister Road. Officers saw a victim lying on the floor of the store with a gunshot wound in his abdomen.
The man, 35-year-old Gurpreet Singh, was rushed to an area hospital where he died of his injuries. 


Singh, an immigrant from India and father of two small children, was working his last shift at the store before starting a new job in the medical field. According to police reports, Singh followed store procedures and cooperated when two black males and one female demanded money from the register. 


Police are still unsure why the perpetrators shot Singh. The entire incident was recorded on the store’s surveillance camera. 


According to police reports a woman entered the store and paid for a few items, then began to “mill around” until her two black male accomplices entered and demanded money. After Singh gave them the contents of the register, Martin allegedly produced a small handgun and shot Singh in the abdomen. 


Singh was robbed at the same store about two weeks before. The Kansas City Police Department’s media unit reports that the store has been robbed “several times” over the last few months.  


Police have asked anyone with more information to call the Homicide Unit at 234-5043 or the TIPS Hotline at 474-8477.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mock Crash, Real Tears

By Sally Morrow Gomez

Under a cloudy sky last Wednesday, Fire Department Captain Terry Magelsson stood in the Grandview High School parking lot, where a realistic reconstruction of a tragic car accident set the scene for what he hoped would be a dramatic lesson for the school’s juniors and seniors:

“You are about to be witnesses to a deadly accident...an accident that happens every 8 minutes in our country,” he said.

“The presentation you are about to see will be presented as realistic as possible. It will be presented in real time.

“There will be moments of anxiety, pain, loss and sadness.

“The rescue efforts will be strenuous and at times, very loud. Take note of everything you see and hear.

“And make a commitment today of what you will do personally to ensure that you and your friends will never have to face a day like this one.”

Complete with bloodied student actors from the theatre department, emergency vehicles, and a Lifeflight helicopter, the “Tragedy in Grandview” docudrama event was staged by the Grandview Fire and Police Departments and McGilley George Funeral Home to demonstrate the consequences of dangerous driving.  Grandview High School Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) hosted the event, which is organized every two years.

Smoke poured from the two crashed cars (provided by Lazer Tow) and faint cries could be heard from injured occupants while Captain Magelsson explained what had occurred. 

“A split second of inattention, intoxication, overreaction, lack of seatbelts and the result is this…a two-car head-on collision.  When these cars struck, their combined speed was the equivalent of hitting a concrete wall at 120mph.  For some of the victims, choking on smoke, gasoline fumes, blood and teeth will mean death within 4 minutes.  For others, death was immediate.  And ironically, some will walk away without a scratch. There’s never any way to predict how the outcomes will be…but one fact remains.  Use seatbelts. They work.  You are 90 times more likely to die if you get ejected from a vehicle.”

Police officers and firefighters responded to the scene, pulling the young injured occupants from the two cars and loading them into ambulances. Officer Scott Evans, the first to arrive at the mock crash scene, performed a sobriety test on the intoxicated driver (played by GHS actor Tad Halstead) and arrested him. 

Halstead said afterward, "Once I got out of the car, it was so real I started crying.  I think it will be very effective."

 
While watching the mock crash unfold, some students shed tears and embraced one other.  After the event, student Larry Carter said, "I was shocked."  Senior Marvell Saffold added, "I think this was an eye opener for a lot of people."  

On average, Grandview Police respond to two fatal car accidents each year, according to officer Scott Evans. Grandview Assistant Fire Chief Jim Toone said that accidents increase in the spring and summer. 

"With prom and graduation coming up, we want to show a vivid display of how bad these accidents can be, for them to see the real consequences," he said. 

Following the re-inactment, students filed past the scene for a closer look then headed to an assembly where organizers spoke about organ donation, avoiding phone use while driving and wearing a seatbelt.

Captain Magelsson left a parting message for the teens:

“Thank you for your attention. It is our sincere hope that we never meet you like this for real.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Longview Road closed between Hickman Mills Dr. and Applewood Dr.

Longview Road has been closed for improvements from Hickman Mills Drive to Applewood Drive beginning March 15, 2010. It will remain closed for approximately two months. Plans include widening the street to three 11-ft. lanes, adding two 4-ft. wide share-the-road bicycle lanes and concrete sidewalks on each side of the road. The project will also feature four rain gardens as part of the drainage system. Jackson County Public Works is managing the project for Kansas City. Electronic signage and traditional detour signs will direct commuters.

Detours: Eastbound on Longview Road, turn north on Hickman Mills Drive to Red Bridge Road, east on Red Bridge to Blue Ridge Boulevard, south to Longview Road. Westbound on Longview Road turn south on Blue Ridge Boulevard, then north on Hickman Mills Drive to Longview Road.

7-11 clerk killed on Bannister Rd.

This morning at 1:06 am, Kansas City police officers were called to a 7-11 store at 8105 E. Bannister Rd. to investigate a shooting.

Officers observed the victim, a store clerk, lying on the floor suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim stated the suspect entered the store and demanded money. After giving the suspect money he (suspect) produced a small handgun and shot the victim.

The victim was transported to a local hospital where he later died of his injuries.

Detectives are seeking information on the three individuals captured on the store's surveillance video of the incident.
  • black male suspect, black hooded coat/sweatshirt
  • black male, dark coat, white t-shirt underneath, standing with suspect
  • black female, white shirt, standing near the door (left side of screen)
Anyone with information is asked to call the Homicide Unit at 816-234-5043 or the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.

Anyone with information is asked to call the TIPS Hotline 816-474-8477.

UPS Store has a New Home

By Colleen May

With the upcoming International House of Prayer renovations at the Grandview Plaza, the UPS Store of Grandview is moving into a new home, just a hop, skip and a jump from its current location.

An agreement has been made for the UPS Store to re-locate into the building at 1503 Main Street in Grandview.

For those of you familiar with the building at that location, you will recall that it spent many decades as Wilson’s Meat Market and has had a variety of businesses, including Pride Cleaners, through its doors over the years.

“The new Grandview Center will be awesome,” owner Tom Sundquist says, “It’s a fully renovated store, almost double our current square footage. It will be totally remodeled with a fresh new look. Almost everything will be brand new. There will be more room overall, and a much better area workflow for both our customers and staff.

“We will also be upgrading to the UPS format, which is very similar to Mailboxes Etc,” he added.

Tom and his wife, Peggy, bought the store in November of 2004. The center has been in operation as a Mailboxes Etc. and the UPS Store for 18 years at its current location and the Sudquists are excited to see it grow at its new home for many more years to come. “The residents and businesses of Grandview and South Kansas City have been very good to us,” Sundquist said. “My staff and I look forward to serving them at the new location with the same world-class customer service they’ve always come to expect from us.”

The current location will close for the move at noon on Friday, March 26, 2010 and re-open for business on Monday, March 29, 2010 at the new site on Main Street.

“We’re currently working with the Chamber (of Commerce) on a formal grand re-opening later in the Spring or early Summer,” Sundquist said. “We’ll have all kinds of freebies, food and fun, so stay tuned for details!”

CAC Must Make Do With Less

By Seann McAnally
 
The Community Assistance Council - the only "lifeline" program for the needy in South Kansas City - will have to make due with less this next fiscal year.
 
The Kansas City Council on March 11 approved disbursement of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as part of the 2010-11 budget process.
 
“At this time, we believe we will receive approximately 70% of this year’s budget,” said Carol Bird Owsley, CAC’s executive director. “Based on those numbers, our Board of Directors is trying to determine where cuts can be made, without disrupting client services to the community.”
 
CAC provides food, housing, utility, and medical assistance to needy families in the South Kansas City area. The organization serves some 300-400 households a month.
 
CAC's funding has been a subject of controversy and concern at several public hearings on the budget.
 
The organization will receive $180,000, including $15,000 that must be earmarked for certain services - in other words, it cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries.
 
Last year, CAC received some $240,000.
 
The picture is not as bleak as it might have been. At zero hour, Councilman John Sharp was able to drive home a request for $63,0000 more than CAC was originally slated to receive.
 
“I’m pleased we were able to get this much more, but I’m still regretful CAC had to take a cut,” Sharp said. “We had less CDBG money this year and more applications.”
 
Sharp said he and Councilwoman Cathy Jolly’s efforts to secure more funding had a boost – the people of South Kansas City who spoke out at public hearings.
 
“The fact that so many people came out to support the program was a tremendous help,” he said.
 
Sharp called it "outrageous" that city staff had originally recommended zero funding for the organization.
 
Owsley said the organization is trying to take a pragmatic approach to the funding loss.
 
That includes seeking in-kind donation of things like office supplies, as well as seeking private donations and grants.
 
“The bottom line is, the services we provide are desperately needed in this community,” Owsley said. “If we don’t have staff to provide those services, it makes it very difficult to get clients the help they need.”
 
She echoed Sharp’s comments about the importance of public support.
 
“We have been grateful for the support we have gotten, not only from our City Council representatives but from the community and the clients we serve.”
 
Some 40 people showed up to speak at a budget hearing at Hillcrest Community Center on March 3, and Owsley said she has almost 200 letters of support.
 
“We help people who are struggling financially,” Owsley said. “But we’re going through the same (funding) problems everyone else is.”
 
Sharp said the Community Development Block Grant fund disbursements won’t be official until the City Council approves the entire budget, but he does not expect the financial picture to change before then.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mavs win last regular season home game

By Conley McAnally
Photos by Jerry Sonderegger 

“Among the injured were…” is a good lead when writing about an Irish wedding reception or a Missouri Mavericks hockey game.  However these stoic Knights of the Ice seem impervious to pain, wrack, and ruin, and lend dignity to what otherwise would resemble a vulgar brawl.  No body check, no flying disk, slash, hook, or fists of an opponent that felt physically insulted keep the warriors of the rink from continuing their joust with puck and stick.

Saturday night, the Missouri Mavericks took on the Odessa Jackalopes in front of a sold-out crowd of 5800 screaming fans at the Independence Event Center. The Mavs beat the Jackalopes by two goals in a shootout after a 3-3 tie during regulation play and one overtime.

The last home game of the regular season was critical to the Mavs, who currently hold tight to 5th place in the Northern Division of the Central Hockey League.  Depending on the outcome of the next three away games and the win-loss record of the sixth place Tulsa Oilers, the Mavs have an excellent chance of participating in the CHL playoffs beginning next week. 


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sanders forms 2010 Charter Task Force

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced on Friday the formation of the 2010 Charter Task Force. The seven-member Task Force, chaired by former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes will be asked to make recommendations for updating the Jackson County Constitutional Home Rule Charter. Sanders stressed one objective of this Task Force will be to explore options for making permanent his administration’s focus on ethics reform and limitations to the powers afforded the County Executive.

"It is important that we ensure, with Charter reform," Sanders said, "that subsequent County Executives -- through the mere stroke of a pen -- can't undo the reforms that we think have reshaped and restructured the way Jackson County government operates."

Joining Chairperson Kay Barnes on the Task Force are Karen E. Curls, Dr. Robert E. Hertzog, John Humphrey, Dorothy Kennedy, Fred Mills and Paul G. Rojas.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CAC gets reduced funding

By Seann McAnally

The Community Assistance Council - the only "lifeline" program for the needy in South Kansas City - will have to make due with less this next fiscal year.

The Kansas City Council on March 11 approved disbursement of federal Community Development Block Grant funds as part of the 2010-11 budget process.

CAC's funding has been a subject of controversy and concern at several public hearings on the budget.

The organization will receive some $180,000, including $15,000 that must be earmarked for certain services - in other words, it cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries.

Last year, CAC received some $240,000.

The picture is not as bleak as it might have been. At zero hour, Councilman John Sharp was able to drive home a request for $63,0000 more than CAC was originally slated to receive.

Sharp called it "outrageous" that city staff had originally recommended zero funding for the organization.

CAC provides food, housing and utility assistance to needy families in the South Kansas City area.

For more, including how CAC officials plan to deal with the drop in funding, see the March 18 print edition of the Advocate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Robots: Where sports and science meet

GHS’ Lee Dickinson, Jarvis Jones, Cody Thiery and David Turner delve into the “guts” of their robot, RoboDog. (Photo by Seann McAnally)

By Seann McAnally

The arena thundered with the sounds of cheering and applause. Audiences did the wave. Buzzers blared. The announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers. Cheerleaders and school mascots urged their teams to victory.

But on the field, the athletes weren’t human: they were made of metal, plastic, and circuit boards. The only humans – area high school students – were behind clear plastic screens, using remote control to guide their robotic creations.

Three area teams competed last weekend at the FIRST Robotics competition at Hale Arena. Teams from across the Midwest converged on Kansas City to take part in the event. Grandview High School ranked 46th, Hickman Mills High School ranked 35th, and a team from Touch of Grace ministries – the only church to compete – ranked 33rd.

The robotics competition was created in 1989 to encourage student interest in science, technology and engineering, and it has evolved into several major competitions held across the country. This year, student teams built robots to play a soccer-like game called Breakaway.

In Kansas City last weekend, the atmosphere of Hale arena was more like a major sporting event than a science and technology competition.

But in some ways, that’s the point.

Clark Vance, a teacher and robotics coach at Grandview High School, said the program allows some students the experience of competition who might not otherwise get it.

“These kids are drawn to it,” Vance said. “We have students who are quiet and don’t get involved in lots of things, but this draws them in. We have some students who are never going to know what it feels like to be involved in a big competitive event.”

That being said, one member of Grandview’s robotics team who Vance calls “Mr. Reliable” is already familiar with the roar of the crowd.

Jarvis Jones, a senior, is the captain of Grandview’s varsity football team and he’s also the team leader for Grandview’s robotics program.

He doesn’t see much distinction between the two.

“Robotics is like a varsity sport,” Jones said. “It’s also a good way of learning engineering, science and technology.”

Like many kids in the program, Jones said he plans to pursue engineering after high school, and that he feels the robotics program is a great hands-on opportunity.

Jarvis and his teammates got a chance to do some last-minute, real-world problem solving during the competition. On Saturday, the computer they use to control their robot, “RoboDog,” went bad.

With some help from another school, the students installed another computer and got RoboDog up and running with only a few minutes to spare. While they didn’t place in the competition, the excitement and joy on the Grandview students’ faces couldn’t be disguised.

Last-minute technical problems also plagued “Darth Bob,” the robot constructed by students from Hickman Mills High School.

Todd Barney, one of three robotics coaches at Hickman Mills, pointed out two malfunctioning chains that help the robot move.

“The kids are doing a great job, but the drive team (students who operate the robot via remote) are taking the brunt of the pressure,” Barney said.

While the Hickman Mills drive team took a much-needed rest, Barney supervised other students who were trying to fix the technical glitch.

One of them, Jerry Novak, a sophomore, said he relished the challenge.

“In this competition, I’ve learned not to get frustrated and just keep cool, no matter what happens,” Novak said.

He said he expects the experience to pay off.

“I want to go into engineering, and I consider this the first step of my career,” Novak said.

One team from Grandview stood out at the competition. Not only were they the only area team to place, but they were the only team in the entire event that was from a church.

Sherri Hall is the robotics coach for the team from Touch of Grace Ministries, affiliated with the Second Missionary Baptist Church in Grandview.

Hall said it wasn’t easy to be taken seriously as a church team competing against high schools.

“Funding was a major challenge,” she said. “A lot of the corporate sponsors will not sponsor religious organizations. We had to work extra hard to get that funding.”

Thanks to the Kauffman Foundation, they got it, and the kids got to take their robot to the competition.

What makes their team unique, Hall said, is that it’s open to anyone.

“These kids are all from different schools, but they go to the same church,” she said. “But anyone can be on this team.”

Hall said she was pleased the team placed, but winning isn’t what it’s all about.

“Some of our kids would not be exposed to this even in their schools,” she said. “They’re learning real-life lessons like how to manage their time, how to work on a project as a team, and how to collaborate and set goals. The big thing is learning how to overcome obstacles.”

Like most other teams at the competition, the Touch of Grace team struggled with last-minute technical problems. A few minutes before a match on Saturday, the robot’s “kicker” went bad.

“They’re working on a solution and they’re doing it together,” Hall said of the children, her face beaming with pride.

Darryl Holland directed other students as they fixed the kicker. Like Jones, Holland is also a “traditional” athlete who has turned his attention to robotics. He currently runs track and hopes to do that professionally or go into marketing. Either way, he said, the robotics program has prepared him for life in general, not just a career in engineering.

“This has really helped me as a person to learn to work with others,” Holland said. “Friday, our drive train broke, and then our sprocket started messing up. We have had to come together to figure out how to solve these problems.”

Candidates file for local, state offices

By Andrea Wood

Local residents have recently been making the trip to Jefferson City to file for a number of federal and state offices, include State Representative seats in Grandview and South Kansas City.

Filing began on February 23rd and continues through March 30th.

Voters will decide a candidate to represent each party during the primary election on August 3, 2010. The winning candidates from each party will then face off in the general election on November 2, 2010.

For State Representative – 45th District, incumbent Jason Holsman (D) had filed, as well as Nola Wood (R), both of South Kansas City.

In the State Representative – 46th District, incumbent Kate Meiners (D) will not be able to file for re-election due to term limits. The open seat has drawn a lot of attention. Democrats who have filed include Darrell Curls, Kevin McManus and Geoff Gerling of South Kansas City, and John T. Maloney of Grandview. One Republican, Rodney Williams, had also filed.

In the State Representative – 50th District race, so far incumbent Michael Brown (D) is being challenged by two other Democrats, Bill Clinton Young and MD Alam Rabbi.

The 10th District State Senator seat is also up for election. Incumbent Jolie Justus (D) is the only one to file as of press time.

Federal seats are also on the ballot in August.

Emanuel Cleaver is yet to be challenged by another Democrat for the U.S. Representative District 5 seat. Several Republicans have also filed, including Patrick Haake and Ralph Sheffield of Kansas City, and Jacob Turk of Lee’s Summit. Dave Lay, of Blue Springs, has filed as a Constitution candidate.

If you have ever considered running for a political seat, you still have time. Filing will continue until March 30th at 5pm. For information about candidate qualifications, filing fees and requirements, and district maps, see the Missouri Secretary of State - Elections Division at http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections or call (573) 751-2301.

Residents, officials sound off on KC budget

By Seann McAnally

South Kansas City residents and officials are upset that some programs to help the needy will get reduced funding in the new city budget.

Meanwhile, city officials face tough choices and say funding for one program means cuts for another, and urge residents to look at the “big picture.”

South Kansas City residents gathered at the Hillcrest Community Center on March 3 to comment on the city’s budget.

The $1.3 billion budget is down 1/10 of a percent from last year. It would eliminate some 80 non-safety related city jobs, impose a salary freeze for all city employees, and reduce paid holidays from 10 to 6. There are also reductions in funding to the Jackson County Sports Authority, Economic Development Corporation, the Jazz Museum, Bridging the Gap, the Community Assistance Council, and other programs. Those cuts don’t sit well with some residents.

“The Community Assistance Council cannot continue to operate with these cuts,” said Jerry
Mitchell, of the Ruskin neighborhoods. “We need to look at the budget and see where you can come up with some additional funds.”

Mitchell also urged the Council not to cut funding for legal assistance to neighborhoods that has been used in the past to help homes associations deal with vacant homes.

Rev. Dale Shotts, of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, said churches are willing to partner with the city to keep programs alive. He said South Kansas City’s funding situation has been getting worse for years.

“We’ve been racing downhill,” he said. “It feels like we’re in a bobsled. We are already operating with one leg and one arm.”
Meanwhile, city officials stressed that the city has less money this year than it has in the past, and tough cuts and fee increases have to be made.

Troy Schulte, interim city manager, said the city will have to roll-up its tax levy to make up for a decrease in property tax assessments of some 3.5%. Other increases include doubling the cost of trash bags from $1 to $2, new fees for liquor law violations, an 18% increase in restaurant fees, and other fee increases. Water and sewer rates would increase by 10% and 15%, respectively.

Mayor Mark Funkhouser called for eliminating city funding for the sports complexes, adding funding for four community center positions, the paint program, city legal services, and expanded 311 services, and an automated trash collection system.

He said he is occasionally frustrated by “unrealistic” comments from people who tend to look at only the part of the budget that affects them.

“What we hear a lot is ‘don’t cut this program’ or ‘don’t cut that program,’” Funkhouser said. “At public hearings, I haven’t heard anyone saying, ‘let’s take care of city employees who are being laid off.”

Councilman John Sharp, who represents South Kansas City, spoke out against a cut to the Community Assistance Council, which is funded through the Community Development Block Grants program. Current proposals show that CAC would get some $110,000 from that source, plus $15,000 from another – about 45% of the funding the organization had last year.

“That’s not nearly enough,” Sharp said. “There’s a great deal of concern in the Ruskin and Hickman Mills area, as well there should be, about this horrendous proposal to make funding cuts to CAC.”

The council will vote on that portion of the budget – CDBG funds – today at 3 p.m. (Editor’s note: The Jackson County Advocate will post those results at www.jcadvocate.com Thursday evening).

“One of the unfortunate things about this budget is that staff recommended funding for new programs, while eliminating funding for proven safety net programs,” Sharp said.

Among those programs facing cuts are the Homelessness Prevention Program, the Paint Up Program, the Emergency Home Repair Program, and funding for legal aid to neighborhood groups.

“The combination of those cuts doesn’t amount to much in terms of saving money, but it will have a devastating effect on South Kansas City,” Sharp said.

April Cushing, of the Ruskin Heights Homes Association, agreed.

“Here we have a budget that calls for putting sidewalks around schools, but cutting programs for the impoverished,” Cushing said. “That doesn’t make sense. People should be put first, and sidewalks second.”

Pam Meeks, program coordinator for CAC, said the organization is bracing for the impact of the budget cuts. Meeks said there is no other “safety net” program available in South Kansas City and that she did not understand why CAC was targeted for cuts.

“Obviously there will have to be some cutbacks,” she said. “Hours will be cut back and services will be cut back. The board (of directors) is looking at a worst-case scenario.”

Funkhouser said he understands that emotions run high, especially when faced with losing funding for a useful program – but every dollar that goes to one program can’t go to another.

“It’s important for people to look at the big picture and the financial welfare of the city as a whole,” he said. “If you choose to fund one thing, what other thing do you cut?”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Area Basketball Teams Finish Season

By Sally Morrow Gomez
For three local high school basketball teams, the season ended at their district championships. The Grandview Bulldogs, who made it to the state championship game last year, ended their season by one point in a heart-breaking game against Rockhurst in the Class 5 District 13 Championship game on Saturday. GHS Senior Quantel Denson fights for the ball during the District Championships against Rockhurst. In the District 13 Class 4 Basketball Tournament Championship game, the Archbishop O’Hara High School Lady Celtics topped the Hickman Mills Cougars 52-41 on February 26. In the Class 4 District 13 championship game at O’Hara High School on Saturday, February 27, the #3 seeded Ruskin Eagles were beaten 51-47 by the #4 seeded Center Yellowjackets.

Ruskin Remains, No More HMHS

Ruskin will stay open as C-1's only high school

By Mary Kay Morrow

After 36 years of graduates passing through its halls, Hickman Mills High School will see its last graduating class in 2010.

The C-1 school board voted last Wednesday to retain Ruskin as the district’s high school, utilize the existing Hickman Mills High School building for an eighth and ninth grade center, and Smith-Hale as a center for all sixth and seventh graders.

The board was split 4-3 in its decision on the district’s high school, with each side presenting its case for either Ruskin or HMHS.

Boundary Committee Chairman Scott Jennings favored HMHS.

“In my opinion, what’s best for our students is to use Hickman Mills,” he said. “It’s larger and more secure.”

On Wednesday, however, Boundary Committee member Teresa Edens laid out her rationale to keep Ruskin as the district’s high school.

“Ruskin serves as the gateway to our community. It’s the approximate center of our district, allows easy access, and is easy to find,” Edens began. She added Ruskin’s track and football field, state-of-the-art media center, specially-designed daycare facility and technology lab as reasons to choose Ruskin.

Referring to an argument in favor of the Hickman Mills’ campus due to the fact that it is larger, can accommodate more students, and has more room to expand, Edens said, “we don’t want to expand. If we need to, we can re-open another high school.”

Edens reasoned that Ruskin’s straight, wide hallways are easier to monitor for safety, easier to navigate, and that windows add to the quality of student life, making Ruskin less prone to discipline issues.

Edens backed her motion in favor of Ruskin with figures that estimated the added cost of transporting students to Hickman Mills to be $35,000.

Regarding additional transportation costs, Jennings said, “It may add one more bus, but it’s a moot point.”

In support of Hickman, Jennings referenced recent gun incidents at Ruskin, better student involvement in extra-curricular activities at Hickman, as well as Hickman’s stronger test scores.

Aiman endorsed Eden’s proposal adding that Hickman’s larger gym can still be used for district events such as basketball tournaments and Community Three Trails Day.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep the biggest building open when we continue to lose students,” Aiman said.

Security was the key issue in board member Darrell Curls’ mind when he voted against the Ruskin motion.

“I’ve gotten several phone calls and emails regarding safety which have weighed very heavily on my mind. You can’t teach and you can’t learn if you don’t feel you’re in a safe environment,” Curls said, adding that a final decision needs to be expedited for safety reasons.

Board President Bonnaye Mims agreed that safety, security, and discipline were key issues for her as well.

Aiman countered that administrators need to enforce policy regardless of the school.

Having visited schools and talked with students, Mims expressed concern about the congestion she witnessed in Ruskin hallways. Many of those attending the meeting applauded when Mims said, “We’re not gonna put them (students) in a school that looks like a herd in the hallways.”

Despite strong arguments for and against both campuses, the final vote tipped in favor of Ruskin at the end of the evening.

Board member Ken Bonar, whose daughter attended Hickman Mills High School, said he had “turned 180 degrees” in his position.

“Based on Teresa’s (Edens) facts, I am now backing Ruskin as our high school,” Bonar said.

Board Vice President George Flesher then joined board members Teresa Edens, Ken Bonar, and Debbie Aiman in voting to make Ruskin the high school where all tenth, eleventh and twelfth-graders will attend high school beginning next fall. It was unclear why Board Vice President George Flesher backed Ruskin on the final vote, after abstaining on the first motion in support of Ruskin.

Board President Bonnaye Mims, Boundary Committee Chairman Scott Jennings, and Board Member Darrell Curls opposed the motion.

A separate vote solidified campuses for the two junior high schools. Mims, Flesher, Jennings, and Curls supported a motion for the Hickman Mills campus to serve as a center for grades eight and nine, and for Smith-Hale to become the sixth and seventh grade center. Edens, Bonar, and Aiman opposed the measure.

Following the vote, current and former students posted messages on two separate Facebook social networking pages: “Save Hickman Mills High School” and “Save Ruskin High School.”

One of the 1,846 members of the HMHS page is Debbie Walters Freemyer, who was in the first graduating class of Hickman Mills High School in 1974.

“Hickman Mills is so much newer than Ruskin...I guess I just don’t understand,” she said. “I can remember having to endure the split shifts while HMHS was being built. We, the students, made a sacrifice as we waited for the new school to be constructed. The Class of 1974 had great ‘Pride’ in being the first graduating class, and this is a sad moment for all of us. I question this decision.”

From here, focus groups may be used to gather input from parents, students, staff, and patrons on the transition including transportation, safety, school identity, creating unity, colors, mascots, letter jackets, and uniforms.

Keep an eye on the district’s website or call 316-7000 to find out how to stay involved in the transition process.