Frank White struck back Tuesday at county legislators who held hostage his first budget as Jackson County executive until he agreed to fund their pet causes.
Aided by a legal opinion from the county counselor, the former Kansas City Royals great initiated a political squeeze play of sorts to undo $500,000 of what he sees as excessive expenditures.
The 6-3 legislative majority that passed the county budget four days before Christmas had defied White’s wishes by dipping into the county’s anti-drug sales tax fund to fund charitable causes at a higher level than White thought wise.
He’d recommended freezing the amount. The majority wanted to spend more on groups that regularly get county aid, such as Operation Breakthrough, and added others, including setting aside $200,000 for a proposed Freedom Memorial Wall for civil rights leaders.
The upshot: A budget review and approval process that normally takes a few days stretched on for weeks as some of the same veteran legislators who appointed White to the job a year ago pressed for more spending, mostly behind closed doors.
Crystal Williams, the chairwoman for 2016 and one of the three dissenters, characterized the last-minute budget negotiations as a “feeding frenzy.”
White refused to make staff cuts or reduce expenditures significantly for basic county services, so the end result was a 2017 county budget that was $407,000 more than he’d proposed.
On Tuesday, County Counselor Stephen Nixon issued an opinion that, for now anyway, undoes that.
He said it was illegal for the county to exceed revenue estimates from the anti-drug sale tax known as COMBAT, which was the source of much of the excess spending.
Nixon said the approved budget for COMBAT was $500,000 above what White had proposed, and his amount was already at or near the limit.
He called the approved COMBAT budget “legally defective and therefore a nullity.” Only salaries can be paid out of that $26 million fund until authorized spending is reduced, Nixon wrote.
White shared Nixon’s opinion before Tuesday’s legislative meeting, and the topic did not come up in public session.
Although the extra spending is a tiny percentage of the nearly $311 million county budget, finding places to cut won’t be easy. Newly elected chairman Scott Burnett told The Star that it was too soon to know what the legislature’s next step will be.
“Call me in a couple of days,” he said.