Jackson County legislators have aired more concerns about spending changes from the office of County Executive Frank White Jr. and suggest they’ll make substantial changes to the 2018 budget. Approval of the $314.81 million budget is on next Monday’s agenda.
One continued concern is spending for the Sheriff’s Department. White has proposed $10.8 million for the department in 2018, an increase of $1 million. That includes a large shift in funding from the county’s road-and-bridge fund.
Legislators and Sheriff Mike Sharp are concerned about how White is accounting for $680,000 in the sheriff’s revolving fund, which, by state law, is controlled by the sheriff, not the executive. Sharp says White is, in effect, taking that money from him, giving it back and calling it an increase.
“The inconsistencies seem to be troublesome. … We may not have anything until next week,” Legislature Chair Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City, said Wednesday.
Legislators also expressed concerns that the Constructing Futures program has been inactive most of this year and apparently has been zeroed out in White’s 2018 budget.
The program helped homeless families by putting them in rehabbed houses with modest commitments by the families to cover some costs.
“It changed people’s lives, and it’s been wonderful to see that,” said Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City.
The person in White’s who oversaw that effort was transferred to a different department earlier this year.
Burnett said the Legislature can reinstate the program, and that appeared to be the consensus among legislators.
“I think we can figure it out,” said Legislator Alfred Jordan, D-Kansas City.
Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, noted some vacancies in White’s office and suggested the county needs to spread out the pain of budget cuts. Legislators are trying to find ways to pay more for jail guards to cut down on turnover, pay more for those in the medical examiner’s office for the same reason, and add staff in the Office of Ethics, Human Relations and Citizen Complaints, among other stated needs.
“I think at some point you get too much management and not enough people doing the work,” Williams said.
Legislator Greg Grounds, R-Blue Springs, asked about the status of the six- to seven-person communications staff, which is in White’s office. The executive’s office has floated the idea of moving them to the Human Resources and Information Technology departments and having them work on behalf of the whole county, not just the executive’s office.
The Legislature recently created a communications position for itself but has not moved to fill it.
Budget talks on Wednesday also touched on some other running concerns.
Williams said the county needs to start regularly scheduled sexual-harassment training, with refreshers every year or two.
“I think it’s pretty pitiful that we don’t do it,” she said.
Human Relations Director Dennis Dumovich said he agrees but pointed out that the county has no one assigned specifically to oversee training. The county has about 1,500 employees.
“We don’t really have a training program,” he said. “I believe wholeheartedly in what you’re saying.”
Williams said she had been waiting for the county executive’s office to take the lead on the issue.
“I think it’s time we made a push from this end, because I’m not seeing it from the other end,” she said.
The county appears to be in the clear for at least a year on what looked like a $3 million problem.
Jim Rowland, executive director of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, said he’s been assured that $3 million for upkeep of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums will be included in Gov. Eric Greitens proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, which starts July 1.
Under the Chiefs and Royals leases, the county and Kansas City each contribute $2 million a year toward that work, and the state kicks in $3 million, but lobbyists have warned that the state’s portion was in jeopardy. If someone – probably the county – didn’t make up the difference, the teams could consider that a breach of their leases.
Rowland said the funding appears secure through 2020.
“After that, it would be pure speculation,” he said.