The Kansas City budget has not been immune to the COVID-19 crisis. As a result of the pandemic and economic shutdown, our city budget is facing a steep budget deficit, and tough decisions have to be made on what city services will be getting budget cuts.
This is a no-win situation for Kansas City residents; services are going to get cut. In that matter, I sympathize with Mayor Quinton Lucas and my colleagues. We are in the unenviable position of determining what is getting cut in the city budget. We are under a lot of pressure to distribute those cuts in a way that makes the most sense. However, as I discussed with Pete Mundo on his radio show this past week, I have to oppose Mayor Lucas’s current plan for an across-the-board 11 percent budget cut.
I can understand the appeal of a flat, 11 percent budget cut for every city department. There is no picking and choosing, there is no playing favorites, there is no allegation of certain pet projects being kept at the expense of others. On paper, such a plan looks like it appeases the most people. However, in practice, these budget cuts will hurt the safety of Kansas Citians. In your personal budget, do you do an across the board cut, or do you select what is more important at the time then later restore funding where needed?
In effect, Mayor Lucas’s cuts will end up defunding the police by 11 percent of its funding. The Kansas City Police Department has an operating budget of around $260 million, so that amounts to a loss of more than $26 million. This $26 million cut will have a direct impact on public safety and officer patrols in our city since almost 90 percent of the police budget is for labor and personnel. Decreased funding equates to fewer officers which means decreased patrols and therefore a decrease in public safety. Reducing the police budget by 11 percent now will mean the loss of trained officers on the streets now and in the years to come. This is not just about public safety today, but about protecting our citizens long into the future.
The truth of the matter is that during different seasons, some city services are more important than others, and public safety is at the top of the list of what is important. Kansas City has seen one of the most violent years in our city’s history; it’s even been dubbed the deadliest year in our city’s history with a record number of homicides. In the midst of this crime wave, defunding the police is not the solution our community needs to keep us safe. Police presence is vital for the prevention of crimes, and for solving crimes too.
The mayor’s budget implies we cannot afford current funding for the police. I say we cannot afford to defund the police. The lives and safety of our citizens are our top priority. What happens if police resources are cut and there is another surge in violent crime? That just means our city will be even less prepared to respond to it, and it will end up costing our city even more money in the long run.
I urge Mayor Lucas and my Council colleagues to reconsider his budget priorities. I am willing to work together to find the most equitable solution for the situation we are currently in, which includes setting our priorities on public safety. An 11 percent city-wide cut, without considering the implications of such cuts, is not what our city needs. This year has shown, more than ever, that Kansas City needs our police officers for the public safety of us all.
Heather Hall is a Kansas City councilwoman where she represents the 1st District. She is the vice-chair of the Finance, Governance & Public Safety Committee, vice-chair of the Special Committee for Legal Review, and also serves on the Mid-America Regional Council Board of Directors.