City budget is passed, but tensions are in play

vacant propertyThe Kansas City police chief says the city needs more officers, but he cannot hire them under the new city budget.

Chief Darryl Forte spoke out this week in his blog.

He recently suggested demolishing dangerous vacant houses to help fight crime, even said he would give up five new officers for it.

The city approved spending $10 million to demolish about 800 dangerous buildings in two years, and Forte supports the effort.

But from the chief’s blog:

The new budget gives police money to hire 48 new officers, far short of the 60 requested.

And with the average turnover of 58 officers a year and a current 89 vacancies, they will have almost 100 vacancies by the end of the year.

To fund normal raises and health insurance increases at current staff levels, they need $6 million more each year. But they were $3 million short last year so needed $9 million from the new budget. They got $5.2 million for it in the fiscal year 2016-17 – essentially a $3.8 million cut.

He noted that they eliminated 100 civilian and

60 police jobs by attrition in the last two years and police did not get a raise last year.

The current 89 vacancies are having an effect, he said. “The time it takes us to respond to emergencies has gradually increased since May 2015, by up to a minute is some places.”

He reports that Central Patrol, which covers most of Midtown, has 161 officers and 25 vacancies – the highest number of vacancies of any patrol division.

Mayor Sly James, in his State of the City speech this week, said that tough funding choices are ahead, but “if I wanted to be loved every day, I would have opened a pet store.”

About 75 percent of the $543 million general fund now goes for police, firefighters and ambulance service, leaving only 25 percent for things like streets, sidewalks, snow removal, trash collection and more, James said.

And about 40 percent of the money that goes into the general fund comes from the 1 percent earnings tax that is up for a renewal vote on April 5.

James and four former mayors held a press event Wednesday to campaign for passing the tax.

If it fails, officials say, Forte will face far more severe staffing problems.

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