After righting a budget miscalculation, the Riley County Police Department will present a budget to the Law Board that is slightly decreased from 2020’s numbers.
But officials at a joint meeting of Riley County and Manhattan Thursday discussed looking for further reductions and potentially codifying how the police department’s carry over cash is handled.
RCPD Director Dennis Butler Monday presented the board with a proposed budget flat with 2020’s approved figures — totaling more than $22 million. They approved that budget for publication, but Director Butler says the figures were based on ’20 numbers that did not subtract carry over from 2018. Carry over is usually subtracted from approved budgets on two year delays due to the timing when carry over numbers are realized.
As such, 2020’s numbers were presented as $22.19 million when the net taxpayer obligation was actually about $91,000 less at $22.10 million. Due to the miscalculation, for which Director Butler apologized, he says the next budget session will remove the proposed .63 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for RCPD employees.
“If we come back at the special Law Board meeting with that correct figure,” says Director Butler,”and we eliminate the COLA — which that would only be fair to do that because of the mistake — the actual net obligation to the taxpayers for 2021 would be $7,460 less than what the net obligation was for 2020.”
By law, a published budget may be cut further but not increased.
The budget still does include step and merit pay raises, which RCPD officials say they were able to accommodate without increasing the budget by shuffling funds between employee health and worker’s compensation funds. Director Butler says he committed to bringing a flat budget proposal, which he did, but had not committed previously to removing all raise possibilities.
This created a conundrum for Manhattan Mayor Pro Tempore and Law Board member Wynn Butler, though. The City of Manhattan as well as Riley County, both expecting budget shortfalls this year and next, are nixing raises for their employees.
On one hand, he says that poses a consistency issue and questioned whether the city and county may end up having to cut staff on their end to meet their obligations to the RCPD budget if the department maintains employee raises. On the other, though, Mayor Pro Tem Butler questioned the purpose of cutting those raises when the budget is flat regardless.
One route forward he proposed was cutting funds for step and merit raises from the RCPD budget altogether, which he estimates would drop the budget close to $750,000 — more than a mill in Manhattan — from 2020’s figures.
“All three government agencies may lower their mill levy, but RCPD would still have a step increase,” says Mayor Pro Tem Butler. “I guess what we’re trying to say is zero’s not good enough for RCPD, it’s got to be more. And the reason is if there is any shortfalls it won’t be absorbed by RCPD, it will be absorbed the city and the county.”
Manhattan City Commissioner and Law Board member Linda Morse, though, stuck to her commitment to a flat budget rather than a greater decrease.
“We could pass a 0 budget for the city, the county could pass a 0 budget, and they could still hollow out some internal accounts to try to reward the employees that have stuck by them during this period of time,” Morse says. “It’s not just the RCPD that could do that, it is possible.”
Director Butler says the RCPD is employing cost saving measures across the board. With anticipation of a need for $1.2 million in IT hardware upgrades in the next two years, he says they plan to use those savings to add to their projected $330,000 IT reserve fund — approved last year — and into the $700,000 emergency reserve fund. Director Butler expects the ’22 budget to be even more difficult, making this a prime chance to prepare.
Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi suggested continuing the conversation at the next Law Board budget session as not all members of that body were present. The date of the next meeting, a special session, is to be determined.
Other discussion Thursday included codifying how RCPD carry over funds are applied to the department’s budgets. The funds are usually applied to budgets two years down the line and after the budgets are already approved, but this year the ’19 figures were included in budget proposals.
Manhattan City Manager Ron Fehr says while unusual, the financial impact is similar. He says there have been past conversations about updating the RCPD statute or creating an interlocal agreement between the county, city and police department to solidify the practice.
“If we don’t do that,” Fehr says, “we [can]at least all come together and recognize some policies on at least trying to memorablize or codify locally some understandings that everybody can work from the same page on.”
Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo agreed with the idea of codifying how the funds are handled, leaning more toward an interlocal agreement to avoid having to bring the issue to the legislature, saying it could be beneficial to clear the issue up for future representatives and staff members.
“Not all of us are going to be here for the next 20 years,” says Vargo. “That will help give long-term stability to how things are handled.”
Director Butler says that stability has been pivotal to the department’s ability to develop staff and programs to the level it has.
Mayor Pro Tem Butler says the usual process has been pretty clear, and that his approach this year was to work out a flat budget and later subtract the carry over as per the norm.
“I saw this as being a flat budget of being a minimum of what we had in 2020 or less the carry over,” says Mayor Pro Tem Butler. “So it would be almost a quarter of a million dollar less than 2020 which would, in fact, wipe out COLAs and step increases.”
Riley County Commission and Law Board Chair Marvin Rodriguez also says he thinks adding the carry over to proposed budgets to flatten them adds costs to the taxpayers.
“If you put that money into the budget to say it’s flat, then the county and city also will have to pay for that money going in,” says Rodriguez. “That’s why it needs to be taken out of the budget that’s proposed so that we don’t pay twice for that money that’s carry over.”
Morse also questioned why the funds are held in non-budgeted accounts, adding it “doesn’t make sense” to establish a budget with varying ending carry over balances.
Fehr says an interlocal agreement on the topic wouldn’t have to be reached until the end of the year. He hopes the financial picture will look more optimistic at that time.
But with projected shortfalls between $3 million and $8 million, city officials also raised the possibility of using reserve funds to offset any deficits in the city’s obligation to fund RCPD. Fehr says he’s heard that second half property tax collections have come in around 92 to 93 percent compared with the usual 95 percent, but that they aren’t sure what the total impact will be for Manhattan this or next year. Additionally, he began making a case for the use by noting that 80 percent of the carry over — and RCPD operations funds in general — comes from the city.
Mayor Pro Tem Butler says the $700,000 in that fund doesn’t go very far, saying the money should be used as a last resort. Morse, on the other hand, questioned whether half could be utilized to augment the budget if necessary.
Fehr closed on an unknown — the possibility of greater losses or additional state or federal relief for local budgets. He says they’re still learning how the State of Kansas will distribute its $1.2 billion in funding for local governments and RCPD is working on grant relief as well.
“We’re still dealing with the 2018 Labor Day flood FEMA reimbursement,” says Fehr. “Those kind of things take a long time.”
Fehr says they will also look to collaborate with RCPD and Riley County in pursuing additional relief funding and grant opportunities going forward.