KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Barely two years after Independence voters passed a use tax to help pay for the city to hire more officers, the department hasn’t been able to increase the number of officers and now will ask voters Tuesday to allow it to use the money for other needs.
The Independence Police Department had enough money for 206 officers in 2019 when voters signed off on Proposition P, which levied a sales tax on online purchases equal to the rate at brick-and-mortar stores in the city.
The use tax was supposed to allow the city’s police department to bolster its ranks, adding several dozen more officers.
Instead, there are currently 199 officers in the Independence Police Department, so the city will ask voters to amend Proposition P to allow the department to spend the money on other needs with the passage of Question 2.
“A yes vote would allow the Police Department to utilize the use tax money for equipment as well as the hiring of the original 30 officers from the original Proposition P ...,” Independence Police Deputy Chief Ken Jarnigan said in a statement to KSHB 41 News. “The use tax thus far has been utilized strictly for hiring the 30 additional officers that the tax intended. The funds have not been utilized for anything else.”
If passed by voters, the ballot question would not change the amount of the tax levied and doesn’t prevent Independence police from using the money to hire new officers.
Proposition P also provides money for the Jackson County Regional Animal Shelter, a no-kill shelter that was in danger of closing without the funding, and that won’t change either.
Out of 199 sworn officers, 21 are officers in training and 12 are on long-term light duty, military leave or medical leave at any given time, according to information about the ballot question on the city’s website.
The Independence Police Department also said 49 officers will become eligible for retirement within the next five years, potentially exacerbating the department’s staffing challenges.
According to the city of Independence’s adopted 2021-22 budget, the use tax was expected to generate more than $4.8 million with $762,750 earmarked for the animal shelter and more than $3 million budgeted for up to 30 sworn police personnel.
The remaining $1 million would waterfall into city coffers, including the general fund ($448,000) as well as sales tax funds for street ($224,000) and park improvements ($112,000), stormwater improvements ($112,000), police ($56,000) and the fire department ($56,000).
According to the city budget, half of the first $1.5 million generated by the use tax is split between the animal shelter and police department after it's adjusted for inflation. The next $1.5 million goes to the police department for the hiring of new officers with any excess beyond $3 million going to other sales tax funds.
The police department estimates the cost of hiring 30 new officers to be $3 million per year, so any money beyond that flows into other funds.
The trend toward online sales has dramatically increased the amount the use tax generates in subsequent years more quickly than the city expected.
By population, Independence is the fifth-largest city in Missouri and the fifth-largest in the bi-state Kansas City region.