Kansas City’s Fire Department would get millions more dollars, but city employees would face a wage freeze and some layoffs under a budget proposal released Thursday by City Manager Troy Schulte and Mayor Sly James.
Schulte said that after years of recession and painful spending cuts, the latest budget scenario is a little rosier. Sales tax and earnings tax collections are up, although property taxes are flat and gambling and other collections are down.
Personnel expenses continue to outpace the money coming in, requiring constraints on raises. Every 1 percent raise costs the city’s general fund about $2.7 million.
“It got a little easier,” Schulte said in an interview Thursday, “but in order to make it a little easier, it required the sacrifice of the one-year wage freeze across the board. If we hadn’t had that, we would have had massive cuts in operations.”
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James was out of town and unavailable for comment, but in a blog post he said the proposed 2015-2016 budget reflects tough decisions, including a plan to eliminate 85 positions in the coming year, of which 25 are filled positions.
“This budget is all about making our city the best it can be, but in the manner that doesn’t break the pocketbooks of taxpayers,” James wrote.
The wage freeze still must be approved by the city’s labor unions, and those negotiations have begun. And the City Council still must hold hearings on the $1.47 billion budget plan before a final version is adopted March 26. It takes effect May 1.
Among the budget highlights:
▪ The Fire Department budget would increase from $140.5 million to $151 million. Schulte said that’s due to increases in ambulance costs, overtime, pensions and health care, and equipment and fleet costs. The police, fire and municipal court budgets together would constitute nearly 75 percent of the general fund.
▪ For the second straight year, city pensions would be fully funded, at a cost of about $78 million.
▪ Sewer rates would go up 13 percent, but water rates would rise just 3 percent after several years of double-digit water charge increases.
▪ The budget provides $400,000 more for community center programming and boosts neighborhood cleanup funding from $125,000 to $250,000. It would also increase bulky item pickup in high-demand neighborhoods while scaling back where service requests are lighter.
▪ The budget provides $30,000 for the 2015 mayor and council inaugural activities, although Schulte said that if the private sector covers the cost, the city could save that money.
The council will hold public budget hearings at 9 a.m. Feb. 21 at the Regional Police Academy, 6885 N.E. Pleasant Valley Road, and 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at Southeast Community Center, 4201 E. 63rd St.