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Independence moves forward with proposing 1/4-cent police sales tax for officer wages

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Posted at 10:26 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 23:57:35-04

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — In Independence, city leaders are proposing a 1/4-cent police sales tax be on the ballot in August.

The sales tax would be specifically dedicated to officer salaries and equipment.

On Monday night, the city recommended moving it to a May 20 council vote, to then be placed on the August ballot.

The city recommended it because its current budget doesn't allow it to stay competitive with police officer salaries in the Kansas City area.

Last month, KSHB 41's Megan Abundis showed how officers with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department reacted to their 30-percent pay increase.

“It makes you feel valued and appreciated by your city council and elected official; we are putting our lives on the line for this community, dealing with inflation," a KCPD officer said. "Officers were struggling to make it from daycare to everything. Everything is expensive. Any stress we can take off an officer, they are going to be a better officer in the community."

The City of Independence took notice of the raises KCPD officers received, and said it's important to do the same for its officers.

But to do so, they’d need to raise officer wages significantly.

On Monday, during an Independence City Council special emergency meeting, members heard from City Manager Zach Walker.

Walker said the department would need to find about $3.5 million to increase wages, or $6.7 million to match KCPD’s pay.

According to the 2024–25 proposed budget, the City of Independence has allocated 45 percent of its budget go to the police department, 31 percent to the fire department, and 23 percent to other uses.

KSHB 41 went to the Independence Square to talk with voters and residents.
 

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“I love it; I know everybody that comes in here," said Lorena Gomez, a manager at El Pico. "Middle of a rush, yup. Same thing; get them what they need in and out."

No matter who comes across Independence Square, Gomez probably knows them.

“I’m friends with everybody over here; it’s very comfortable over here," she said.

She’s also comfortable talking about what she wants her community to look like in the future — mainly safe.

“Especially lately, since this year has started, I feel like the crime has gone up," she said. "It’s been more common to hear six, eight police cars."

So, Gomez is on board with approving the sales tax for officer salaries.

“I feel like if they feel like they need it, then they need it," she said.

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“I think ultimately having more police is a good thing," Jamie Abshier said. “If it supports our boys in blue, I’d definitely do it."

But will people feel tax talk fatigue?

“We don’t need a new stadium," Abshier said. "I think that's what most of the Jackson County populous feels; however, when it comes to making sure our neighborhoods, businesses, and homes are protected, I think that’s what’s mainly more important."

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“I think they deserve it," Connie Fortner said. “How much is this one? A quarter of a cent? That’s not very much, really."

Others said they’re on a fixed income and need more information before deciding on supporting the sales tax.

But the city says the tax would generate about $5.5 million each year and could fully fund new wage agreements and 38 vacancies at the new higher salary.

They could utilize a one-time resource to cover the cost, like using remaining ARPA funds.

But Walker said that wouldn't be the best option.

“Will be right back here next year," Walker said.

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“This certainly feels like an emergency," Walker said. "You’re just going to see an overall decline in moral and community response [if this doesn’t happen]."

At the meeting another city council member spoke on the importance of the tax.

“It’s such a dire situation that we don’t really have any choice," the council member said.

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Independence Police Chief Adam Dustman said if this funding source does not come through, the department will be forced to move officers away from specialized units and move them to patrol.

He said recruiting will become challenging with KCPD’s 30-mile radius that their officers can live in, which includes Independence.

"We don’t do this lightly," Dustman said. "Every ounce and penny we can scrape together won’t make us competitive with the wage scale the Kansas City Police Department is moving to.”

Dustman spoke on other tough choices the department would have to make if the sales tax isn't approved.

“It would mean reduction of services, pulling back people to patrol,” Dustman said. “We are at about currently 50 percent staffing in our investigations unit, which causes us to potentially look at engaging a metro squad; that comes out and responds from a multitude of different agencies. That would be a first for us in a long, long time."

“It’s something where people have to put themselves in officers shoes, their family's shoes — they are putting themselves out there," Gomez said. "But man another thing we have to pay for and take out of salaries, but it easily goes both ways. They are asking for something that they obviously need.”

This proposed sales tax wouldn’t have an end date or year — voters would have to repeal it.

The city says it’s in-perpetuity because it’s tied to officer salary and benefits.

The city recommended moving forward with the proposal to voters. On Monday, May 20, they will vote to add it to the Aug. 6 ballot.

The City of Independence staff includes a tax comparison across metro areas.

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More information for independence voters on what the ballot could look like is below.

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For more information on the sales tax, click the links below: