Kansas City Council Approves 2017-2018 Budget, Boosts Public Safety Funding

Mar 23, 2017

The Kansas City Council on Thursday approved a $1.59 billion budget for the next fiscal year.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

On Thursday, the Kansas City Council approved a $1.59 billion budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The new budget takes effect on May 1. 

Public safety, with a focus on firefighters and police, gets a boost of 4.6 percent or $19 million. Funding for city services, such as trash collection and park maintenance, will continue at about the current level. There are also slight pay increases slated for city employees. 

Nearly 80 percent of the city's general fund operating budget is focused on public safety — a priority for area residents, based on citizen satisfaction surveys, as well as city officials. 

Councilman Scott Wagner mentioned tweaks to the budget after seeking input from residents.

"We have had many public meetings, we have had a variety of electronic means for people to tell us what they would like to see in this year's annual budget," he said.

Public feedback led to a reduction of proposed water and sewer rate increases from 3 percent and 13 percent to 1.5 percent and 9.5 percent. 

Wagner described "various squeezes" on the city's finances, and suggested "consolidation between our Police Department and our city." He chairs the finance committee, and said that they'd be looking for savings opportunities in the coming months —  including overtime pay.

The Police Department is slated to receive $250.8 million, up from $242.5 million, in the new budget. The department had requested an additional $1.7 million in funding, a proposal that didn't pass out of the finance committee on Wednesday.

Councilwoman Teresa Loar argued that funding for the department could still be identified, even if it's not included as a line-item in the budget.

"We'll continue to search for that money as we go," she said. "The budget is somewhat fluid, and we'll continue to fight for those dollars and get the money for public safety as they need them."

But, Mayor Sly James said in the council meeting, "I agree that public safety is important. But I also recognize that we have a lot of responsibilities, not simply public safety. If the police department, fire department want more money, then they should look internally and become more efficient." 

Earlier in the day, James had cautioned council members about possible lean fiscal years ahead.

"Our budget is going to become a very, very important document going forward," he said, "because we're not going to be getting any money from anyplace else."  

According to James, with uncertainty on the federal level about funding for cities and urban programs and a state legislature he describes as "hostile to cities," Kansas City is going to have to do more with less. 

In April, Kansas City voters, among other issues on the ballot, will consider an $800 million infrastructure bond to address some of the city's ongoing infrastructure needs, such as aging streets, sidewalks, and bridges. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster at KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig