Fairfax fire station loses in UG straw poll; DA’s CIU gets preliminary nod

The Fairfax fire station lost a straw poll at Monday night’s Unified Government Commission budget hearing and workshop, while the district attorney’s community integrity unit won a straw poll.

The votes weren’t binding, according to UG officials, but will provide direction to the UG administrator to change the budget and present it at Thursday’s budget adoption meeting. That meeting is scheduled at 5 p.m. July 16.

The UG Commission was considering last-minute changes to its $382 million budget. The budget as originally proposed did not have a mill levy increase. While the mill levy rate is proposed to be flat, the assessed valuation in Wyandotte County went up 5.1 percent for the 2020 budget, and is proposed to increase 5.8 percent for the 2021 budget, according to the UG budget document. That means some residents could see an increase if their mill levies stay the same as last year. The budget includes some cuts and furloughs.

In a virtual meeting lasting nearly 3.5 hours, the UG Commission on Monday voted 6-4 in a straw poll against a proposal that would keep the Fairfax fire station in Kansas City, Kansas, open while opening the new Piper fire station, also in Kansas City, Kansas. The UG administration had proposed closing the Fairfax industrial district fire station and sending the crew out to Piper for the new station there.

Voting for the motion to continue to fund the Fairfax station and open the Piper station were Commissioners Mike Kane, Melissa Bynum, Tom Burroughs and Christian Ramirez.

Voting against the motion were Commissioners Gayle Townsend, Brian McKiernan, Harold Johnson, Angela Markley, Jim Walters and Jane Philbrook.

Commissioner Townsend had proposed an alternative – to staff the Fairfax station part-time and the Piper station part-time with the same crew.

Commissioner Johnson presented another alternative, to either delay funding for the Piper station or temporarily close the Fairfax station for the remainder of this fiscal year, with a commitment from the commission to work to find funding for both in the following fiscal years.

In previous meetings, it was stated that the UG would need $900,000 to staff the Piper fire station for the rest of the year, and would need about $1.8 million to staff it the next year.

Melissa Clark, a business owner in the Fairfax district and the executive director of the Fairfax Industrial Association, appeared during the public hearing and said that a fire station was needed in the Fairfax Industrial District, for the same reasons fire stations are needed at airports. It isn’t necessarily because they have a lot of use, but it is because of the volatile substances there.

She said it is a heavy industrial district, with volatile fuels underground, petroleum tanks and highly volatile oxygen lines.

Clark said the Fairfax district has over 135 businesses, more than 10,000 employees and $5 billion in property. It pays $18 million to $20 million annually in property and utility taxes, she said.

The straw poll vote was 10-0 in favor of District Attorney Mark Dupree’s CIU project. The commissioners discussed adding part of the funding that Dupree had requested, not the full amount.

The DA had requested $92,000 in 2020 and $260,000 in 2021 for a community integrity unit that would investigate complaints about police and law enforcement officers in Wyandotte County.

During a public hearing before the straw poll, the commissioners heard from several members of the public who supported the DA’s CIU, a hotline for reporting complaints about the police and the “Safe and Welcoming” ordinance.

One resident, Ann Suellentrop, told the commissioners she was there to demand funding for the community integrity unit and the passage of the Safe and Welcoming ordinance.

Suellentrop and other speakers referenced past cases where police allegedly abused their power. She said the CIU was necessary to increase public trust.

Kimberly Hunter, another resident, alleged that the police had covered up past abuses. She said transparency and independent investigations were needed.

Marcus Winn, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident and community organizer for MoreSquared, said budgets are also moral documents that reflect the values of the community.

He said checks and balances are a good thing. He also said some residents who have started complaints have abandoned them because of fear of retaliation.

Winn said they launched an online petition this weekend calling for the CIU, the Safe and Welcoming ordinance and the hotline, and they have gathered hundreds of signatures.

Marcia Rupp, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident, asked the commission not to defund the police, and that they need all the police officers they can get.

“Mom always told me, when you’re not sure what to do, not to make any moves at all,” Rupp said.

The meeting is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sISnu6HKphA.

The UG budget is online at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Finance/Documents/Budget/2020-Amended-2021-Proposed-Budget-Unified-Government-WYCO-KCK-FINAL.pdf.

To see an earlier story, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/ug-budget-hearing-to-be-tonight/.

Another earlier story is at http://wyandottedaily.com/ug-administrator-proposes-flat-mill-levy-rate-for-2021/.

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