Kan. agency surprised by $800K in costs

Chief Ron Miller said the department could reduce costs somewhat by going for a time without hiring any new officers

By Tim Hrenchir
Topeka Capital-Journal

TOPEKA  — Circumstances beyond its control have the Topeka Police Department looking at incurring nearly $800,000 in unexpected expenses this year, Police Chief Ron Miller said Wednesday.

Miller said the department is in line to pay an estimated $464,000 more than it had planned to a state pension fund for police officers and firefighters because of a rate hike approved in November after the city's governing body established its 2012 budget in August.

"None of us foresaw that happening, because the state raised the contribution amount after the budget was adopted by the city," Miller said.

He said the police department could still reduce the amount of the estimated $464,000 payment somewhat by going for a time without hiring any new officers.

Miller also said the city's finance department in crafting the city's 2012 budget apparently inadvertently failed to budget money to cover at least $320,000 in increased pay police department commanders have been receiving to address salary compression issues.

The city's governing body in August 2010 approved a 2011 city budget that included about $320,000 to provide pay increases to police commanders to address compression in the police department budget. The city's 2010 budget included $77,000 for the same purpose. The new salary scale had been put in place for commanders with the rank of lieutenant or above to ensure they were paid more than lower-ranking officers.

But Miller said the finance department apparently didn't "roll forward" that increase into the 2012 budget approved this past August, meaning the police department budget must cover the costs without having money to finance them available.

The Topeka Capital-Journal contacted Miller on Wednesday after interim city manager Pam Simecka told the city council Tuesday that the police department so far this year was about $800,000 over the 2012 budget the governing body approved for it in August.

Simecka said she had consequently canceled plans this summer to offer a police academy to train new Topeka police officers.

She told council members they have the authority to direct her to change the police department's 2012 budget, but said she considers herself obligated by law to seek to keep the department within the budget the governing body approved to operate the department this year.

Mayor Bill Bunten, Councilwoman Denise Everhart and Councilman Chad Manspeaker reacted Tuesday by voicing concern, saying they considered it important to adequately staff and finance the department. Without taking a vote, council members asked Simecka to schedule a work session in which they could discuss what to do regarding police department finances.

Simecka took over as interim city manager on June 2 from Dan Stanley, who left the job the previous day for family reasons.

Simecka told council members Tuesday their options included transferring money to the police department budget from the city's 2012 ending balance. Such a move could potentially cause the city's bond rating to be lowered, thus forcing it to pay higher interest rates when it borrows money.

Council members expressed interest Tuesday in discussing the issues involved with Miller, who wasn't at the evening's meeting.

Miller said Wednesday that while the nearly $800,000 in extra costs took him by surprise, he knew entering this year that his department would face financial challenges.

He said he had been aware that the 2012 city budget called for the department to leave enough jobs unfilled to save $900,000 in "vacancy credits" to be turned back to the city general fund and to pay $205,000 in "step" pay increases to officers with the rank of sergeant and below.

Contacted by phone Wednesday at his home in Sanford, N.C., Stanley said he had asked Miller to achieve the $900,000 in vacancy credit savings for 2012 but had wanted to relieve him of the vacancy credit requirement for 2013 and to use any savings the department achieved as a result to enhance its capabilities.

Stanley wrote in an email later Wednesday that he did talk with Miller about holding a police academy this summer.

He wrote: "My view is that if we were to fully staff the TPD in '13 we needed to get a class going mid-'12 as the officers aren't ready for the street for at least 18 months after starting the academy. So, I was willing to absorb the cost for half of '12 in order to be fully staffed in '13."

Copyright 2012 The Topeka Capital-Journal

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