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Kansas City Police Board claims the city is manipulating budget to spend less on KCPD

Four police officers sit in a row of chairs, backs to the camera. In the foreground, the back of a protective vest reads, "police."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Board of Police Commissioners has filed a cross claim in an ongoing lawsuit that accuses Kansas City of undercounting the amount in its general fund to spend less on police. Above, officers sit at a meeting of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners in December, 2021.

Under Missouri law, Kansas City must spend 25% of its general fund on the police department. Members of the Board of Police Commissioners say the city is leaving out developer subsidies and other budget items to spend less on cops.

Kansas City's Board of Police Commissioners claims the city is undercounting its revenue so the city can spend less on police.

Because the Kansas City Police Department isunder state control, the Missouri Legislature sets the minimum share of its general fund that Kansas City must allocate to its police department. That share is now 25%, after voters across the statepassed a constitutional amendment earlier this month to raise it from 20%.

Under state law, the city doesn’t have to include a few spending categories when it calculates the general fund, such as the cost of lighting the city and paying interest on city debt.

But in across claim filed Thursday, four of five police commissioners allege Kansas City is also deducting developer incentives like special business districts, transit development districts, sales tax rebates and other funds when it calculates its general fund.

“Excluding development incentives and economic development activity from the City’s general revenue is especially problematic because those activities increase the cost of Policing,” they argued. “When the City undertakes a new commercial development, for example, extra policing is needed to patrol or respond to calls in the newly commercialized area.”

The cross claim — a claim brought by one defendant against another in the same proceeding — names Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who under Missouri law holds the fifth seat on the Board of Police, and city director of finance Tammy Queen as the parties responsible for Kansas City’s alleged undercount.

“This is not the police board going after a certain money, this is the police board asking for a full and fair accounting, a visible accounting, of exactly how much the city's general revenues are,” explained Patrick McInerney, an attorney representing the Board of Police Commissioners. “It's the board asking the city to tell us how much the general revenue is, because that's what the law says we have to base our budget on.”

The commissioner’s cross claim was made in response toa lawsuit brought last year by Urban League president Gwen Grant, who alleged that state mandates setting how much Kansas City spends on police amount to “taxation without representation. It also argues the police board was created and maintained “for a discriminatory purpose” of denying African Americans their right to local control of the police department.

Jon Dedon, the attorney representing Grant, said that developer incentives cannot themselves be considered revenue, as the police board suggests.

“There is no practical ability for them to spend that tax money,” Dedon said. “If the board is successful as a functional matter, either the city will have to give a much higher percentage of the money it actually spends.”

Lucas said the assertion of an undercount is false, and argued the board's action is politically motivated to assert more power over the city.

“This is going from beyond just control over a portion of the city's budget, to trying to control entirely everything that might ever touch Kansas City, Missouri,” Lucas said.

Lucas says that if the board succeeds in their counter-claim, it could freeze development in the city and potentially undo incentive tools — an argument that McInerney disputes. Lucas said the city is working with economic development agencies on how to respond to the board.

“It seems that they view themselves as really not in any way connected to a city, but instead just some sort of warring faction that won't be pleased until perhaps they subsume all authority of Kansas City Council, all authority of the taxpayers of Kansas City,” Lucas said. “And do it while also not actually paying officers more, building a jail, hiring a new police chief.”

Lucas is suing the state of Missouri over the new law requiring Kansas City to spend more on police.

Last year, Lucas attempted to move about $42 million from the police budget into a “community services and prevention fund” for outreach, intervention and other public services. The police board sued, and last October a judgeblocked Lucas' plan, ruling it was illegal.

The Board of Police Commissioners recently approved a $294 million KCPD budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, an increase from its current budget of $269 million.

Updated: November 18, 2022 at 3:36 PM CST
This story has been updated.
Madeline Fox is a news editor for KCUR.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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