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Police once again get the largest share as Kansas City passes its annual budget

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 Kansas City Council approved its $2 billion budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

The KCPD's budget takes up the largest chunk of any city department. This marks the first time the city must allocate 25% of its general revenues to the KCPD since the passage of Amendment 4 last year.

The Kansas City Council approved a $2 billion budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which includes $284.5 million for the Kansas City Police Department — the most allocated to any city department.

The budget passed with a 12-1 vote; Councilman Brandon Ellington was the only no vote. This budget marks the first time the City Council must allocate 25% of its general revenues to the police department since Amendment 4 passed statewide last year. The council was previously required to fund the department at 20% of its general revenue, but often funded the department above that threshold.

This is the biggest allocation the city has given to the KCPD since 2018.

According to information from City Hall, 25% of the city’s general revenue is $203,068,918. The city is also obligated to fund pension contributions for police employees, amounting to $44,677,816 for next year. The police department will also receive $37.3 million from special revenue funds and debt funds.

Council members voted down an effort to allocate an additional $5 million to the police department during Thursday’s council meeting.

The $284.5 million for the KCPD represents a nearly 6% increase from the department’s current budget. The Kansas City Fire Department has the next highest budget, at $244 million.

What do residents actually want?

Kansas City conducts an annual survey asking about resident satisfaction with city services. Survey results found that residents’ top three priorities are:

  • Streets, sidewalk and infrastructure
  • Police services
  • Neighborhood services

Only 13% of residents were satisfied with the maintenance of city streets — the lowest rating of the city’s infrastructure priorities. Dissatisfaction with the quality of police services increased from 20% last year to 26% this year, according to the survey.

The survey also found that 43% of residents are satisfied with the availability of affordable housing. That number is lower for renters — just 23% are satisfied with affordable housing in the city.

The budget includes $13.45 million for street preservation and $5 million for sidewalks, funded through the GO Bond program. The neighborhoods department will receive $26.8 million in the upcoming budget.

Police Budget

City officials told KCUR that the city is funding the KCPD above the 25% threshold, but did not specify by how much. Mayor Quinton Lucas has indicated in previous council meetings that the KCPD’s budget for the upcoming year is just slightly above the 25% threshold — and that the city cannot meaningfully change the department’s budget, despite demands from residents.

“Those discussing whether there was a potential for reallocation, among other things, that may not be a path,” Lucas said during a February budget hearing. “So how we best utilize that budget might be more of the focus for us here.”

That’s frustrating to Kansas City residents like Amaia Cook, who organizes with Decarcerate KC, a grassroots group that opposed Amendment 4.

“We also know that we're living in a city that doesn't have control over its police department and can't really say what can happen with that budget,” she said.

Still, the process of how the city comes up with 25% of its general revenue is often shrouded in secrecy and difficult to understand. It’s become the subject of a legal battle between Mayor Lucas and the Board of Police Commissioners, the five-member body that ultimately controls the department. Lucas is also a member of the board.

The Board of Police Commissioners — in an effort to get the city to allocate more money to the police — claims Kansas City is undercounting its general revenues when it determines its funding obligation to the police. The board argues the city should allocate 25% of the revenue collected from economic development as well. If a judge rules in the board’s favor, that could force the city to fork over $13 million in additional funding to the KCPD.

It’s raising concerns for city officials as the city faces a budget deficit in the coming years. It’s also worrying to organizers like Dylan Pyles with Decarcerate KC.

He said backroom and courtroom conversations leave out most Kansas Citians.

“The reality is that the 25% mandate is state law, but it's also very confusing,” Pyles said. “There has not been a ton of transparency for different reasons from the city about how the 25% is calculated.”

Other Funding

Kansas City will also provide $1.6 million to support the city’s right to counsel program, which has already helped hundreds of tenants avoid an eviction judgment by providing them with free attorneys. Legal organizations say the funding will help hire more attorneys.

The city approved $500,000 to support small business development. Another $11.5 million came out of the budget for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to fund the citywide streetlight conversion to LEDs.

The city also budgeted more money to add two more employees to the Office of Environmental Quality and Compliance, which advocates say would help the city achieve the goals in its Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan. It will also fund more inspectors in the Public Works Department and hire a dedicated short-term rental inspection team, a response to resident complaints of unruly Airbnbs.

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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