We're guessing the water tour seemed a convenient way of looking presidential while making a fund-raising trip on behalf of Jim Talent's Senate bid. But we need Bush to bring us cash rather than take it. Two days after Bush's visit, city officials nervously admitted that the storm-water system needs $1 billion worth of repairs.
Northlander Kay Barnes brought up her neighbors' concerns at her weekly ServiceFirst briefing with City Hall's department managers. The mayor asked water-department director and presidential tour guide Gurnie Gunter, "Why can't the department come out and take care of the ditch in front of my house?"
Shitty question. City officials mumbled the price tag for fixing such problems citywide. The bill would be bigger than the entire 2003 city budget.
"Where do we get the $1 billion?" the mayor asked.
Now that's a good question. Gunter halfheartedly mentioned a quarter-cent sales tax spread over a few decades, but no one seemed confident that voters would swallow it.
"It's such an enormous problem, and the average citizen doesn't understand that to keep their basements from flooding, we need $1 billion," councilman Chuck Eddy said.
Scott Paszkiewicz, environmental planner for the Mid-America Regional Council, says the billion-dollar problem is the result of aging infrastructure carrying runoff from new development. As water washes over pavement covered in oil, road salt and dog crap, streams swell with polluted runoff.
Worse still, heavy rains send human excrement gushing from the city's older sewers into open waterways. That might explain why officials steered Bush clear of former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver's gorgeous improvements to the Plaza. It'd be tough to call Kansas City a leader in the fight against bioterrorism with Brush Creek stinking worse than a dirty bomb.