By Seann McAnally
It’s official – the Kansas City Council has passed the 2012 budget.
The $1.4 billion budget includes some $7.6 million in cuts to the Kansas City Fire Department, which was the chief area of controversy at several public budget hearings before citizens’ groups.
The council on March 29 passed the budget 12-1, with 6th District Councilman John Sharp casting the dissenting vote.
City Manager Troy Schulte said some 105 firefighters could be laid off, though most cuts would be sought through attrition – early retirements and the like.
Sharp earned a lengthy standing ovation from the audience in the packed council chambers when he said he did not believe cuts should be made to public safety, especially when the plan ads $800,000 to the Mayor’s Office budget and puts some $1 million in a “rainy day fund” that already includes about $39 million.
“If this occurs, the people laid off will be the newest, with the least seniority,” Sharp said. “But those are the people who are cross-trained to serve on an ambulance or a fire truck. They’re the last ones we want to lose.”
City Manager Troy Schulte said wherever possible, those cuts will be achieved through attrition – early retirements and the like – though he did not dismiss the idea of outright layoffs.
Sharp said he was concerned that the cuts would reduce the number of fire fighters per truck from four to three. That means Kansas City will no longer meet minimum standards for service set by the National Firefighters Association.
“When voters passed the fire sales tax in 2000, part of that was a promise to meet that standard of four people per truck,” Sharp said.
But 5th District Councilwoman Cindy Circo defended the cuts, pointing out that she well understands the challenges firefighters face because she was once married to a firefighter.
“Suck it up, do what needs to be done,” Circo said. She also pointed out that almost every department faced some cuts.
Other cuts included reductions in street resurfacing and parks maintenance. The Leaf and Brush Pickup program loses its funding, so that this Spring will be the last time that happens if the budget is not amended before next year.
“I don’t think that will save money,” Sharp said. “I think we’ll pay more to clean all the leaf and brush out of the catch basins, and have a trashier-looking city.”
The budget does include raises for the city’s upper management positions, who received no raises over the past three years. Sharp also opposed that plan.
“I would have preferred that rather than giving raises to our highest-compensated employees, we would have put that money into basic city services,” Sharp said. “It’s true they haven’t gotten raises in three years, but they are very well compensated already.”
Sharp said he was pleased, however, that funding remained in place for the KC Community Garden program, and that the Human Relations Department was saved as its own department – Schulte had proposed that it be folded into the Mayor’s office.
“That department fights hard for minority and women-owned businesses,” Sharp said. “If it had been demoted, it would have lost a lot of clout.”
Mayor Sly James said he was pleased the council made the tough decision.
“This…represents a good budget,” he said, “despite the fact that it taxes all departments and forces us to get by with a lot less money.”