Pensions cited for city budget belt tightening

Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:00 am

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
February 19, 2014

“This is a budget that reflects a harsh reality,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James told members of the city council on Feb. 6. “We had to come to grips with our pension issue.”

Beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-2015, the city will fully fund the actuarial required contribution for all pensions which equates to a pension funding increase of nearly $15 million for the new fiscal year.

“We can’t spread it out, we can’t make it any less painful,” James said of the pension funding increase. “We are stuck with what we negotiated.”

Due to this funding increase, City Manager Troy Schulte is proposing to eliminate 110 positions in city departments and eliminate 30 fire department positions for FY 2014-15. The police department is also being asked to cut its operating costs by $6 million through structural changes, by continuing to partner with city departments as well as eliminating positions and finding additional savings through vacancies.

In spite of these cuts, Schulte pointed out in his FY 2014-15 Submitted Budget Transmittal Letter that both the fire department and police department’s budgets on average have outpaced the average annual budget increases of other city departments. Since FY 2004-05, the police department has received an average annual increase of 3.8 percent, the fire department received an average annual increase of 2.6 percent and all other non-public safety budgets received an average annual increase of 0.1 percent. The FY 2014-15 proposed budget for the police department is $202 million, an increase of about $7.4 million over FY 2013-14, and the fire department’s proposed budget is $141 million, an increase of about $5 million. The city’s total proposed budget is $1.4 billion.

Public safety accounts for 71 percent of the General Fund, a two percent increase from last year, said Scott Huizenga, city budget officer. When public safety soars above the 60 percent mark, the budget begins to “look a little bit out of alignment,” said Schulte. The norm across the U.S. in other cities is public safety accounting for no more than 50 percent of the General Fund, Schulte said. For larger cities, the ideal is no more than 60 percent, he added.

“We skew a little bit toward public safety in terms of General Fund dollars,” Schulte said.

The question is how to tackle that number without affecting the delivery of services and response times, he said.

“We have to figure out a way to spend what we need to on public safety, but not consume all available resources on that need,” Schulte said.

James commended the city staff on crafting a balanced budget and said that although “tough decisions” are being made, the city is “maintaining the fabric of the (city) council’s priorities.”

For a complete budget overview, visit http://www.kcmo.org/idc/groups/citymanager/documents/citymanagersoffice/submittedbudget_fy15_web.pdf.

 

Budget Info Box WEB