Yael T. Abouhalkah

There’s a price to pay for police project overruns

Updated: 2013-07-31T23:06:06Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Two of the largest Police Department construction projects in history are coming in way over budget.

That’s embarrassing for police and city officials, and a warning to Kansas Citians to demand better and more precise estimates from City Hall. (Here’s one that must be right: Will building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport really cost $1.2 billion? More? Less?)

The pair of ongoing police projects are the new crime lab/East Patrol station near 27th Street and Prospect Avenue, and the extensive renovations of and additions to police headquarters downtown.

• Total revenues pledged by the public for the projects in 2002 and 2010 sales tax elections: $85 million.

• Total funds now estimated to be needed: $115 million.

That’s a 35 percent increase.

(If a similar spending ramp-up occurs for the KCI terminal, it might cost an extra $420 million. Gulp.)

First, consider the headquarters upgrades.

In 2002, taxpayers were asked to provide $18.2 million for renovations that include areas for walk-in police reports by the public to offices for detectives and other personnel. Upgrades were planned for plumbing, elevators, and heating and air conditioning. Voters approved the initial, quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for this project, plus other police improvements and better ambulance service.

However, little progress was made on the renovations throughout the decade.

In 2010, the city asked taxpayers to supply an extra $10 million to complete basically the same headquarters renovations. Voters endorsed the sales tax renewal, which brought total revenues for the project to $28 million.

But the scope had changed, problems were encountered as rehabilitation has moved forward (it’s an old building, which everyone already knew) and the total cost is now pegged at $40.5 million.

As part of scrambling to put all those funds together, the city has taken $5.9 million away from construction of a new North Patrol station, also pledged to voters in 2010. The project is in limbo.

Yes, cost overruns have consequences.

Regarding the crime lab/East Patrol station, promoters of the renewed sales tax in 2010 — as well as after the election in late 2011 — told the public the entire project would require $57 million.

But land costs were higher than expected, the early estimates didn’t account for all the amenities needed on the project, and the total budget now exceeds $74 million.

Again, look at the consequences of soaring over a budget. The city plans to issue an extra $14 million in bonds for this project. It will pay for the annual debt subsidy by trimming other police improvements also promised to residents in 2010, such as new police patrol cars and new technology.

It’s also troubling that city officials plan to cut the size of the crime lab from the long-promised 70,000 or so square feet to 54,000. Such a decision could become a long-term problem for Kansas Citians.

The crime lab is one of the most crucial improvements in public safety protection, helping to solve not just murders but many other crimes that affect residents. Skimping on it is irresponsible.

The blame for missing the mark on these projects falls on a variety of people, especially police and city capital improvements officials plus the city architect’s office. Politicians and members of the public who wanted community amenities at the East Patrol station also bumped up the cost. Plus, residents fought for higher prices for houses that needed to be demolished.

City and police boosters often say the renovated headquarters, the East Patrol station and the crime lab will be great improvements for fighting crime.

They better be, considering how much local taxpayers are doling out for them.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on KCPT. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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