I am a Lee’s Summit resident of nearly 16 years. I am also the wife of a Lee’s Summit firefighter and paramedic, a mom of three, and an educator. My husband serves as the IAFF union treasurer and serves on numerous committees. Over the past several years I have listened to him describe the deteriorating condition of our fire department. Firefighters, many of them experienced paramedics, are leaving to work for higher paying departments. Few qualified people are applying for open positions, making it difficult to fill them. Many Lee’s Summit residents are familiar with these issues as they have been in the local news for over a year.

In the past, I have trusted that those elected and hired to govern our city’s finances have done so with great care, doing what is best for our city and the interest of both the employees who work here and the citizen’s who pay taxes. Recently, I decided to investigate that assumption on my own by digging into financial records of our city just to see if anything stood out to me. In my opinion, data should drive all decisions, so I began a search for information. Hence the quest to look over numbers from Lee’s Summit Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) and Annual Budgets from the past several years, all available on the city’s website. From what I have learned, I mostly just have many questions. Let me show you what I have found.

One common reason given to our public safety professionals as to why raises are not possible is that there simply is not enough money. Our family must budget our money and regulate our spending, so I understand the concept that money can be tight. Sometimes there is a perception that our revenue is just barely enough to cover our city’s expenses. Listed below is a table showing the city’s property and sales tax revenue between 2009 and 2018:

Property and sales tax numbers will vary year to year with changes in the economy, which one can see as you look at the data from 2011 to 2014. Even though we see a little variance in those numbers, one can see the increase in overall revenue that follows. Our overall revenue for the past ten years is up in the two largest ways our city earns revenue.

The next question I pondered was how our property and sales tax revenues compare to other surrounding cities. Not every city had their 2018 CAFR available online, so some comparative data was used from 2017. I found it interesting that our property and sales tax revenue is higher than neighboring Independence, which has a larger population.

After examining revenue, I wondered how public safety spending has changed over time in our city. As one can see in the table below, our public safety spending has nearly remained the same in the past six years. What I did not realize until reviewing the data is that our public safety services have been generating quite a bit more revenue for the city in the past several years. With this increase in revenue coming directly from public safety, I question why this revenue is not being invested back into these services.

After seeing how public safety expenses have basically remained the same over time, I wondered how spending in other departments within the city have changed over time. This time I analyzed ten years of expense data from the CAFR by department. I was not surprised to see total expenses rise over the years, as this is normal. What did surprise me was just how different the percentage change has been by department. The percentage change between 2009 and 2018 was 20.8% for public safety, but 48.3% in general government.

My next question was how much other departments spend on public safety compared to our city. I expected to see numbers like ours, but what I found only made me wonder about our city’s management of tax payer money. I used the most recent data provided by each city to determine their total spending on public safety and then calculated the total percent spent on this category out of their total overall expenditures. After seeing how our total public safety expenses have barely grown over time, I was not surprised to see that Lee’s Summit spends less percentage-wise than many other cities in our area. It is important to remember that Blue Springs does not provide fire services for its city.

Next, I wanted to find out how our total spending on public safety has changed over time when compared to other cities. I chose to only analyze Olathe and Independence since they have a comparable population to ours. As one can see, these two cities have increased their overall public safety budget by quite a bit between 2009 and now. I certainly do not advocate for increasing spending for the sake of increasing spending, but when our public safety personnel are underpaid, which has been well documented by pay studies, why are we holding that department’s budget down when other cities are not?

One common hurdle mentioned about employee payroll is the rising costs of healthcare and benefits. I have not explored the details of those specific expenses yet, but I will say that this is a challenge experienced by all cities, not just ours. If other cities can manage and plan for this rising expense, why can’t ours?

After seeing all the above data, I decided to dig around a bit and analyze some of the actual expenses by department year to year for the past five years. I was curious if other departments within the city are increasing spending compared to our fire and police departments. I pulled up budget reports from the past several years to compile some information that provided me with more questions than anything else.

Personal services is the expenditure for each department within our city that incorporates the payroll cost. I compiled data from five departments: finance, police, fire, administration, and law. Frankly, I just chose a few that I was curious about. What interested me from the data below was the percentage change between 2013 and 2017 in the finance department. I understand that staffing increases and changes are likely the cause of this drastic change in numbers.

Next, I wanted to see how spending has changed in the expense category labeled as “Other supplies, services, and charges” in the same time period for the same departments. This data made me wonder as well. Why is it that our police and fire departments have been able to decrease overall spending in this area, but the finance department has seen a large increase?

Finally, I looked at interdepartmental charges. This category of expenses goes towards paying for ITS support and vehicle maintenance. As one can see, no major changes within police and fire, but what strikes me as odd within these numbers is the large amount being spent in this category by the finance department.

Now, look at the overall changes in department expenses over these five years. What does this table say to me? Fire and police are not priorities in our city, but other departments are.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chart-10.jpg
Analysis of Total Department Expenses

To conclude I would like to state that my overall goal was to just see if I found anything interesting or surprising in our city’s financial documents. Many things made me scratch my head and I have many more questions than answers. I am hoping that other citizens will begin to wonder, as I do, about what is really happening with our taxpayer money. If we cannot pay our employees a salary that compares to other cities our size, why not? I encourage you to dig into the numbers available on the city’s website and begin asking questions of our city council and our city administration. Send emails. Make phone calls. Show up to city council meetings.

Thank you for allowing me to share my discoveries with you. If you find an error in my data, I apologize for that in advance. I have tried to double-check my numbers and calculations to prevent that issue.

Kimberly Sterne



  • Kari Tibbetts

    February 2, 2019 - 12:37 pm

    Thank you for this analysis. On the issue of pay increases, I would be interested in seeing data and discussion comparing amount and types of crime and fire responses in each city by year. I am curious if cities with lower rates and less dangerous types of crime and emergency response situations can justify spending less per employee due to that inherent benefit of serving that specific city. For example, Independence PD likely deals with much greater personal risk than an officer in LS; is it appropriate to then pay that officer more than another experiencing less risk? Is the city drawing on personnel pools who will work for less in wages, but have a less risky job and live in a more sought after district (if you are comparing safety and schools with other cities)?I don’t have an opinion, just curious of other’s thoughts on this.

    • Bob Carney

      February 2, 2019 - 6:35 pm

      Your article has some good data, but specific line item costs are needed; salaries per employee per year, cost of each employee benefits package each year, and other costs you and your husband are privy to explore. The Finance category for example looks heavily bloated in some of the data. Is the Finance area that inept, or are they acquiring more workload? Have they redefined the Finance department and reporting staff? And still, we don’t know specific employee salaries and benefits costs.

      And to look at a bigger picture, i look at the common tax payers, too. The clerks, some with long tenure, at our convenience stores, do the same thing our honorable firefighters do…work to support their families. Only many of them do it for much less money, a pittance for benefits, and statistically, some of them are in much greater danger of harm.

      Thank you for the privilege to reply.

    • Kimberly Kay Sterne

      February 2, 2019 - 6:55 pm

      You can go to any city’s website and look at their crime data. That is not something I have had time to analyze completely. I can tell you that more goes on in our own city than you hear on the news. Regardless, our police don’t need to get shot at more often to get paid more, particularly when we have money and are clearly not prioritizing it.

  • David D.

    February 3, 2019 - 1:11 pm

    Thank you Mrs. Sterne for the great article and important information. First of all, sorry, but the comment that a police officer working in a more “dangerous” city should be paid more is way off base. While our city is beautiful and generally safe, it’s by no means Mayberry USA….
    Mrs. Tibbetts if you were one of our great LS Officers approaching a car on the side of the road, at night, by yourself, not knowing who’s in the car or what their intentions might be, would you feel the same way? Our Police Officers and Firefighters leave their families to go put their lives on the line for people they don’t know, and may never cross paths with again, and do it selflessly, not knowing if they’ll be going home after shift. And in the City of Lee’s Summit, they’re doing it for pay that’s under what comparable cities around us offer.

    As far as the FD is concerned, years ago they would have to use the John Knox Pavilion to administer the written test to start the hiring process because there were so many applicants wanting to join a great department. Hundreds of applicants for just a few open positions. Now, they’re getting maybe ten applicants because the cities starting pay is so low, and those applicants know they can go to neighboring cities and start out at a much higher rate. Or, when great applicants are hired, there have been many times where they are sent through an Academy, only to have them leave shortly after that to go to a city that pays more.

    On the topic of Paramedics. After a certain amount of years on the department, the city will pay for any FD employee that wants to become a Medic, and that employee is sent through a local program, which costs the city, (so actually us taxpayers), thousands of dollars per person. We’re also losing some of those employees to other cities after paying for them to become Medics. Paramedics are a vital resource to any City and that resource is growing thin within Lee’s Summit.  The city has not committed to retaining these highly motivated and educated individuals. Area competitors offer better compensation.  This has direct impact on the delivery of services by the fire department.  Services that every citizen of Lee’s Summit expects and deserves.

    So your Fire Department is at times basically a stepping stone to get some experience on a resume, and get a Medic license paid for as some other cities make their employees pay their own way through Medic school. I’m in no way blaming the Fire Department, as this waste of taxpayer money falls back on the city.

    If you ever are in the position to have to use the services of the FD for ambulance transport, know that those crews may be on the ambulance back to back shifts, and yes I understand that’s their job, but those men and women are becoming burned out due to the shortage in staffing, long hours, and increasing amount of calls. Also, just in the past few years, because of the short staffing, some members have been made to work mandatory shifts, which means when they’re supposed to be getting off their 24 hour shift in the morning, they have to stay another 24 hours because there’s no one available to take their place. That means that employee may miss out on seeing their families, getting to appointments, and/ or side jobs, as many FF’s have other work they do on off days to pay the bills.

    Add to that the shortage in the dispatch center. Typically there are 2-3 dispatchers taking calls for not only Lee’s Summit residents, but 6-7 other area departments at the same time. Imagine having to call 911 because a family member is in cardiac arrest, needs CPR, and you are either put on hold or the call is dropped completely? Or, imagine one of your Firefighters becoming lost or injured while in a fire, calling for help to their only lifeline, the dispatchers, and that distress call being missed because the center is too busy with other agencies. Again, not the Fire Departments fault as they’ve requested to add dispatchers to the center which has been denied in the past. The city has doesn’t see the need to add additional employees to those that handle the 911 calls, and that are understaffed and overworked.
    The city has got to do something instead of numerous pay studies, (again, something the taxpayers pay for), that verify that police and fire are underpaid, and then say the city’s broke and nothing changes, or the excellent services Lee’s Summit residents deserve are going to suffer.

    • kenscofield

      February 4, 2019 - 8:56 am


      If the city has been/is so financially strapped, how then did we the taxpayers fund the round abouts and the “Yours Truly” statues? Even with state or federal grants, the city has to pay a portion of the cost on a project the grant is paying for, usually 10%.

      Misguided priorities is all it is. I’m not saying we didn’t need a new exit on 50 Highway, but I don’t think we needed the round abouts. More costs in design and building them vs traffic lights and stop signs.

Comments are closed.