The Kansas City Council should begin a thorough review of how many public safety workers it employs.
That’s one clear message contained in the pages of the city’s proposed 2017-2018 budget, released this week. The document projects spending for all city functions at $1.59 billion, 4 percent higher than a year ago.
Virtually all of that increase comes from $19 million in additional spending for police and fire services. The increases are higher than the rate of inflation and are almost entirely attributable to salary and benefit increases.
We have no quarrel with negotiated salaries and benefits for public workers. That’s how collective bargaining works.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But it’s clear increasing public safety personnel costs are crowding out important spending on other city services, including parks, street repairs and transportation.
Seventy-six cents of every general fund dollar in Kansas City goes to police and fire protection. That’s a concern.
If the council wants to hand out 4 percent raises to police officers and firefighters, it must ensure those departments are run as efficiently as possible.
The new budget pays for 2.9 uniformed police officers for every 1,000 city residents. That’s more officers on a per-capita basis than in Dallas; Little Rock, Ark; and Nashville, Tenn., according to 2015 figures compiled by Governing magazine.
To be sure, there are fewer police officers here than in Washington or St. Louis. In fact, the figures show Kansas City’s per-capita police force is about average for cities with 500,000 people or more.
That may or may not be defensible in a city where violent crime remains a major concern. The council should ask for a review.
The firefighting force is a bigger worry. There are 2.6 firefighters per 1,000 residents in Kansas City, which appears to be high. According to recent figures from the National Fire Protection Association, the average for Midwestern cities of 250,000 people or more was 1.73 firefighters per 1,000 residents.
Kansas City’s firefighting force includes emergency medical technicians, which could skew the figures. Again, the council should ask for an explanation.
That’s essential because overtime costs for firefighters are astronomical. Kansas City taxpayers could pay $9.3 million this year for firefighter overtime.
That overtime expense, the result of arcane work rules, demands extreme vetting.
Pension costs also continue to rise. City Hall will fully fund four public employee pensions this year at a cost of roughly $82 million, more than all the property tax revenue in the general fund.
In a few weeks, voters will be asked to raise their taxes for capital improvements and development on the East Side. They should know if the dollars they now send to City Hall are spent as efficiently as possible before those ballots are cast.