Independence facing challenges ahead
It is extraordinary the difference a day can make.
Or more particularly in this instance an actual count versus an earlier estimate.
In a July 19th op-ed “Independence needs a frank discussion of resources and services” I confidently asserted Independence had experienced little population growth during the period 1950-2019.
I should have waited.
Less than a month later, the U.S. Census Bureau released the official population 2020 count, and to my utter surprise Independence showed significant growth.
Between 2010 and 2020, Independence grew by 6,181 (or 5.3%) which is more than the prior 40-year period, 1970 to 2010.
This is surprising and truly significant.
Where is the growth occurring?
• Southeast Independence, where large high-density apartment complexes have been constructed.
• Western Independence, where the Independence School District is building new elementary schools.
• Scattered pockets of growth – a little bit here, a little bit there.
• All of the above or something different.
These questions are important and deserve further analysis when updated maps can be easily produced and publicly shared.
Where Independence is growing takes on additional significance. In November, there is a special election seeking voter approval to:
• Provide the police department more flexibility to add officers and equipment (no tax increase).
• Add firefighters, equipment and update or construct new fire stations (three-eighths sales tax increase).
While Independence grew – good news for sure – our growth still lags behind Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Grain Valley. Combined, those three communities have grown by 151,620 in the 50-year period 1950-2020.
While Independence is again growing (once again good news), it faces significant challenges in how to fund local government.
The Independence city manager recently presented an unsettling picture of our financial future that truly lurks right around the corner. In short, we are about to hit a financial wall.
The city manager projects the city – in just four years – will go through its current reserves and face a $17.7 million general fund deficit. The current general fund is $78 million.
This is consequential.
Independence’s population is growing even as our fiscal fortunes are on the decline.
Our current position has been masked over by the steady flow of COVID-19-related federal funds coming to communities – ours included. At some point, surely that will end, leaving us to make it on our own.
The conclusion raised in the earlier piece still holds:
We do not have the city services current residents deserve or that would make us more attractive community to others considering where to live and work.
What do we do?
So as last month’s headline suggested, perhaps it’s time for “frank discussion of resources and services.”