Kansas City’s Fire Department had 100 employees who last year earned between $107,000 and $232,105. Fire Chief Paul Berardi earned $150,208.
The Police Department’s top 100 earners had compensation between $101,000 and $190,000. Police Chief Darryl Forté was the top earner, at $188,748.
The numbers were part of a compensation summary provided to The Kansas City Star as the City Council works to approve a new city budget with big increases for the police and fire departments, mostly for pay and benefit packages.
Generally, council members have been very supportive of the raises, saying public safety is their top priority and they highly value their police and fire forces.
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And at budget discussions Thursday, council members didn’t quibble with the pay, although they sought assurances that, as costs continue to mount, the departments are being as efficient as possible.
“What are we doing, and how effectively are we doing it with the money we already have?” Councilwoman Katheryn Shields asked Deputy Police Chief Patty Higgins, who told the council the police want $254.9 million in next year’s budget, primarily to cover anticipated wage, benefit and overtime increases. City Manager Troy Schulte’s recommendation for police is $250.8 million.
Schulte has repeatedly pointed out that total spending on the police and fire departments is consuming nearly three-fourths of the city’s general fund, leaving all other services like solid waste, neighborhood code enforcement, parks and public works squeezed.
“The increase in public safety spending outpaces revenue growth, which requires us to cut other spending,” Schulte said in his budget message to the City Council. The new budget will be adopted March 23 and takes effect May 1. It may be changed slightly before March 23, but major changes aren’t likely.
City Councilwoman Alissia Canady told Higgins she knows the police have a hard job and need adequate funding but said the city, and especially struggling neighborhoods, also have a lot of other needs.
“Trying to balance all these competing interests is very difficult,” Canady said.
Total spending on public safety, including police, fire and Municipal Court, is expected to increase $19 million, or 4.6 percent more than the current year.
Of that, the budget proposal calls for Fire Department spending to increase $11 million, from $155 million to $166.3 million. Nearly all of that is for wage increases, overtime and minimum staffing requirements negotiated with the city.
The city has had a particularly hard time getting a handle on fire’s overtime costs — one firefighter/paramedic earned $232,105 last year, with a lot of overtime. Yet the budget proposal boosts money for overtime pay yet again, from $6.5 million to $9.5 million in the next fiscal year.
Councilman Scott Wagner, finance committee chairman, complained Thursday to Berardi about the ongoing overtime problem and said the city simply has to find a solution. But Wagner said that in general, he does not feel Kansas City’s public safety employees are overpaid.
About a year ago, the City Council approved a new wage deal with the local firefighters union through April 30, 2020. It provided three annual raises and possibly four annual raises of at least 2.6 percent. City finance officials worried that the mounting costs exceeded projected revenue growth. But council members said public safety was their top priority, and the Fire Department was worth the investment.
For the rank and file, the current average base pay in the Fire Department ranges from $52,329 for emergency medical technicians to $59,595 for firefighters and $78,136 for fire captains, not counting overtime or other compensation. The department has about 1,280 employees.
The Police Department budget is slated to go from $242.5 million to $250.8 million, for a workforce of 1,940. Again, much of that budget increase is attributable to anticipated raises rather than any increase in the number of officers.
The minimum annual base salary for a sworn officer is $43,404. The current average base salary if $63,072, and the current maximum base salary is $72,048.
In a blog post last October, Forte said police deserved raises on par with city employees, including the firefighters.
A recent pay study by the Olathe Police Department showed Kansas City police had the highest starting salary among 12 area law enforcement agencies. But Kansas City slipped to 10th in area rankings when looking at the maximum annual pay.
Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, said Thursday that negotiations are underway for a new pay package and have been going well, although he didn’t know when they would conclude. The current pay package expires April 30.