Bid to increase Kansas City’s raise to police salaries put on hold

The Finance and Governance Committee wants more time to weigh Councilwoman Heather Hall’s pitch to put another $1.7 million in the city budget for police salaries.
The Finance and Governance Committee wants more time to weigh Councilwoman Heather Hall’s pitch to put another $1.7 million in the city budget for police salaries. kmeyers@kcstar.com

City Councilwoman Heather Hall believes she can help Kansas City’s budgeters secure an additional $1.7 million to boost the city’s controversial raise in police salaries.

But the city’s Finance and Governance Committee determined Wednesday it wants more time to ponder details in her proposition that the funds could be secured by consolidating some city and police functions.

“My thought is we need to pause and get it right,” Councilwoman Jolie Justus said, concurring with the committee’s unanimous decision to wait.

Hall’s pitch comes as the full City Council prepares to approve the city’s $1.5 billion budget Thursday.

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The struggle over police salaries has been playing out between Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, who has announced he is retiring, and Kansas City Mayor Sly James. The police chief has been lobbying for increases competitive with neighboring cities, with the mayor defending police increases in a city budget that is now 76 percent consumed by public safety costs.

Hall’s intentions to draw revenue from consolidation joins another long-running debate over Missouri law that keeps the Kansas City’s police department separate from city management and under state control.

Too many uncertain variables are in play, the Finance and Governance Committee determined, to recommend Hall’s resolution for full council approval without more study.

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Hall was disappointed by the delay, she said after the hearing, because she said young officers the city has trained will see better opportunities in neighboring cities.

“How many officers are we going to lose in the year?” she said.

The proposed resolution would direct the city manager to “find an additional” $1.7 million within the general fund for police salaries, but not to take effect until Nov. 1.

No other city services would be affected under the resolution because it also says the funding would be made to police only if second-quarter revenue exceeded projections or if the city was successful in finding savings in consolidation in amounts equaling or exceeding $1.7 million.

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“This would not be taking from Peter to pay Paul,” Hall said. “I don’t want to take it from anywhere else.”

The current budget proposal going to the full council is raising the city’s budget for police from $242.5 million to $250.8 million, an increase of $8.3 million. Hall believes the city needs to make that increase a total of $10 million.

City Finance Director Randy Landes cautioned the committee against proposing budget expenditures that would be contingent on higher-than-budgeted revenues.

“I’m not comfortable with the notion,” he said.

The committee also noted that consolidation of services in the city and police budgets has been explored many times and analyzed in audits, but with little actual consolidation completed.

“The elephant in the room,” Hall acknowledged, “is that we don’t manage the police budget, the state does.”

Hall urged the increase forward anyway, saying she would bring a higher level of commitment to push for some consolidation, and that the city would hold the police department accountable to use increased revenue for salaries as directed, or the city would withdraw future support.

But committee chairman, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, after the hearing, said it’s not easy reducing a budgetary commitment once it has been given.

“She says we’d pull it back,” Wagner said. “But the reality is that never happens.”

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