816 North

New sales tax would add police, firefighter positions

North Kansas City officials are asking citizens to help alleviate pressure on the public safety tax by passing a new sales tax. The funds would go to pay for additional staff at the fire and police departments.

If it passes, the tax will start Oct. 1. The rate would go from to 6.725 to 7.225 percent and is estimated to garner about $1.7 million in the 2018 fiscal year.

“With the Great Recession back in 2008, we saw a big decline in our general revenue, and we’ve been in deficit ever since then,” City Administrator Eric Berlin said. “In 2011, in order to balance the budget, we had to make very substantial cuts in our workforce to bring things in balance.”

The city has been working to fix this budget issue for a few years, but it needed approval from the state legislature. Then, in 2016, the legislature gave the city the OK it needed to put the sales tax increase proposal on the budget. The North Kansas City Council then approved placing it on the ballot.

Some of those cuts included eliminating six police officer and two civilian police positions. But even those cuts weren’t enough to keep the budget completely in balance.

If the tax is approved, Berlin said city officials plan to restore those six police positions and one of the civilian posts. Some of these would restore the community outreach positions that were eliminated in budget cuts.

“Right now, we have no room to spare and sometimes have to pay overtime when someone is on sick leave,” Berlin said. “The police and fire make up 74 percent of the general fund budget — so it is a large percentage of our general fund, which is having this budget problem.”

They would also add three firefighter positions and a management analyst to help the department move forward with meeting national accreditation requirements. This role would involve grant writing, analytical and administrative work.

“Accreditation means we’ve met certain criteria,” Fire Chief Gary Fisher said. “It raises the bar and helps to recruit world-class personnel.”

The tax revenue not used for personnel would go to balance the general fund budget.

If the tax doesn’t pass, Berlin said the city will have to keep making do with reserves and current revenue.

“If we continue to have deficits, we would have to make further cuts to balance the general fund budget,” he said.

There are no plans yet for what the cuts would be as the city still has sufficient reserves.

Fisher said he thinks a sales tax makes sense.

“North Kansas City is a very busy place, and everybody who comes through gets to share in the services and protection we provide,” he said.

“That’s the great thing about a sales tax. Everybody helps pays for it, and that includes everyone who comes through our city, too.”