Government & Politics

Finalized KC budget puts more police officers on street for second year in a row

For the second year in a row, Kansas City Council members have approved a new budget providing for more police officers as the city grapples with spiking rates of homicide and other violent crime.

Council members on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment to the $1.7 billion budget city staff recommended last month that allocates another $300,000 to the police department for 12 more officers. Last year’s budget added 24 officers and 15 call-takers.

The budget also included a 2.9 percent, or $7.3 million, boost to the department for wage and benefit hikes, pension and health insurance increases, equipment maintenance and other priorities.

In a statement, Sgt. Jake Becchina, said KCPD appreciated the funds for extra officers.

“More officers hired allows us to better serve the citizens of Kansas City,” he said. “This cascade of additional officers will have a positive impact in patrol operations as well as investigations. “

The council began its annual budget process last month when Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte submitted their recommended spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins May 1. Council members and city staff then went to work getting public feedback and making modifications.

Most of James and Schulte’s budget remained intact. But in addition to the extra officers, council members increased funding to a public-private partnership for a new animal shelter, violence prevention, health programs and the Urban Business Growth Initiative, which supports small businesses.

The budget also provides increases for street resurfacing, more firefighters, dangerous building demolition, illegal dumping enforcement and code inspectors.

The plan allocates just $300,000 for the 12 officers because KCPD won’t hire them until halfway through the fiscal year.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, one of six council members running for mayor, said the decision to add the officers reflected public concern about KCPD staffing and crime. A SurveyUSA poll commissioned by the Kansas City Star and published Sunday shows crime is the biggest issue in the minds of mayoral primary voters.

“But we also understand internally that we have a lot of officers who are rushing from call to call,” Wagner said.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, 4th District at-large, questioned the addition, though she eventually voted for it. She argued the city had yet to see the full benefits of the 24 new officers hired last year because they are still finishing training or just joining the department.

“I know nobody wants to say anything bad about the police, and I’m not saying anything bad about the police,” Shields said. “I’m just wondering if we’re maybe — well, we don’t have any information yet on what was the effect of the last 24 new police officers.”

Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, who chairs the neighborhoods and public safety committee and is also running for mayor, said a resolution her committee is considering would allow the city to have discussions with the police department on how to intentionally and gradually expand the force.

“We don’t have a plan on how to do that collaboratively, and the resolution would allow us a process where we could get there,” Canady said.

Council members on Thursday also passed a set of ordinances laying out both long-and short-term financing for the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

The ordinances included funds to pay the developer, Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate, for work already done by the company and its subcontractors, and money so that crews can start early site work while the city waits for proceeds from the project bonds.

Council members voted to amend the city’s master bond ordinance, which regulates the types of bonds sold for capital projects. The amendment would allow the city to use something other than the traditional general airport revenue bond. This issue has been politically fraught because local firm Burns & McDonnell was disqualified from the procurement process because its proposal violated the ordinance.

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, 4th District, who is running for mayor, said the ordinance would have needed amending anyway and argued it was separate from the issue that disqualified Burns & McDonnell.

But Wagner disagreed.

“It just seems to me that if you’re going to play by a certain playbook it should consistent throughout the process,” Wagner said.

Wagner and Canady voted against the ordinances.

City officials are expected to gather Monday for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.