Kansas City Council adopts budget with big increases for pensions, fire

The Kansas City Council adopted a new budget Thursday that funds pensions to the tune of $80 million and gives $10.5 million more to the Fire Department.

But it freezes municipal employee salaries and requires some layoffs.

“We continue to hold down costs and reduce the size of the workforce,” City Manager Troy Schulte said, noting that this budget gets away from financial gimmicks and balances revenues with anticipated spending.

“It’s doing those fundamentals, making sure that basic services are provided,” he said.

The $1.47 billion budget for 2015-2016 takes effect May 1. It’s a 3.5 percent increase over the current $1.42 billion budget, and much of that increase is to the water and aviation funds.

For the second year in a row, the city is funding the required amount for employee pensions, but it’s a big lug. Taxpayers will contribute $80 million to the pension systems for police, firefighters and other municipal employees — up from $63 million just two years ago. The city increased its contributions as part of reforms to deal with years of pension underfunding.

Most retirees will get up to 3 percent cost-of-living increases in the new fiscal year, while city employees get no raises this year because of continued budget constraints. The budget also eliminates about 80 positions, including 20 filled positions.

The biggest budget arguments this year concerned two issues: cuts to the American Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine and possible cuts to indigent health care providers like Truman Medical Center and the Sam Rodgers clinic in order to shore up the city’s ambulance service within the Fire Department.

The Jazz Museum was to have its citywide allocation cut by 25 percent, or $125,000. But after appeals from supporters, it is now slated to absorb a cut of $65,000, leaving it with a $427,000 appropriation.

Because of ambulance overtime and issues with ambulance medical billing, budget analysts originally had recommended cutting $2 million from the $30 million in annual funding for Truman and other indigent health care providers, and shifting it to the ambulance service.

But because ambulance collections have improved in recent months, the new budget only cuts $500,000 to the indigent health care providers. If collections come in better than expected, the city might be able to undo the cut in the next budget year.

Schulte said the city is finally budgeting realistically for the Fire Department and providing enough funds to handle overtime and other annual costs. The Fire Department budget increases from $140.5 million to $151 million.

The Police Department budget also goes up from $228 million to $231.4 million, but that’s far below the $19 million increase the department sought. About 15 police officers were in the audience for the council’s vote Thursday to signal their concern.

Brad Lemon, president of Lodge 99 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he and other police officers are worried that the budget won’t adequately sustain the current workforce of 1,390 uniformed officers, and that public safety will be jeopardized.

City officials have said they have to find a way to rein in public safety costs because the police, fire and municipal court budgets together constitute nearly 75 percent of the general fund.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.