Editorials

Editorial: City Hall, police overlap wastes millions in taxpayer dollars

A report suggests millions of dollars might be saved if Kansas City and its police department eliminate duplicate jobs. Both the department and the City Council should find ways to save taxpayer funds, or put more officers on the street, or both.
A report suggests millions of dollars might be saved if Kansas City and its police department eliminate duplicate jobs. Both the department and the City Council should find ways to save taxpayer funds, or put more officers on the street, or both. KEITH MYERS/The Kansas City Star

News that City Hall and the Police Department may be wasting millions of dollars on overlapping jobs will rightly shock some — and will prompt sad head-shaking among others.

They know the truth: We’ve seen this movie before.

While this tale has a familiar ring, it’s time to rewrite the ending and finally stop wasteful spending on duplicative office functions.

The latest analysis, recently made public and revealed this week in The Star, shows overlapping police and City Hall functions may cost more than $38 million a year.

The duplicate jobs run the gamut, from purchasing and supplies to payroll administration to information and technology services. Nearly 500 City Hall and police employees share similar responsibilities.

Consolidating even a few of these positions could mean real savings for taxpayers, or more officers on the street. Cutting just $2 million worth of overlap — a reasonable possibility, the study shows — might provide funding for 25 new police officers, a real help when violent crime continues to plague the community.

We understand the overlapping employees provide essential services for City Hall and police headquarters. Those tasks need to be accomplished, so saving the full $38 million isn’t possible.

But decision-makers at 12th and Oak and across the street at 12th and Locust owe the city a concerted effort to spend money more efficiently.

Regular readers know we’ve made this point before. For decades. We’ve said — as have auditors, City Council members and others — that there is no good reason City Hall and the department can’t share fleet operations, or human resources functions, or building maintenance responsibilities.

These and similar proposals have met with stiff resistance, usually from the Police Department. The officers, in turn, are supported by the Board of Police Commissioners, the strange entity embedded in state law that insulates police from the oversight of locally elected officials.

We want state control of the police department to come to an end. We also realize that isn’t likely anytime soon.

That’s no excuse for wasting money.

Next month, the department is expected to receive a report on its staffing patterns, with a focus on civilian jobs and uniformed officers. City Hall and the police board should take that report, combine it with the recent overlap study and develop a detailed action plan to reduce as much duplication as possible.

Then they should make their recommendations public.

The Police Department may resist. For that reason, city officials might offer a commitment — for every $2 in savings, $1 will be returned to the department for on-the-street personnel costs.

Such a compromise would protect taxpayers, who are already spending more than twice as much as legally required on police.

It might also help officers do their jobs.

Kansas Citians recently showed enormous faith by approving tax increases for infrastructure repairs and East Side development.

City leaders must continue to earn that trust by spending all taxpayer money more wisely.

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