Budget cuts shrink plan for new KC crime lab
Sunday, June 30, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposed $40 million crime laboratory promised to Kansas City voters when they approved the extension of a public safety sales tax in 2010 might need to be scaled back because of budget overruns, city officials said.
The laboratory and a new police station planned for a 20-acre campus in east Kansas City will need to be smaller in part because the cost of buying residential homes to make way for the project was millions more than city officials expected. The addition of other features, such as a gymnasium and property and evidence storage, also ate into the project's $74 million budget, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1aQT65B ).
Members of the city's police board were not happy when they recently heard the new plans from city officials.
"We promised the citizens that we were going to build a state-of-the-art crime lab and we're not doing that," board member Angela Wasson-Hunt said. "We're reneging."
Police had already scaled back the planned lab to $25 million and now want to knock it down to $19 million by reducing its size by 17,000 square feet. The city also suggested eliminating a community basketball court and reducing exterior amenities and as well as the size of the new East Patrol station and an adjoining gym planned for residents.
The reduced lab is all the city can afford, city officials told the board Tuesday.
"It gets us a very good crime lab," said Danny Rotert, the city's spokesman. "Maybe it's a Chevy instead of a Ferrari, but it allows us to live within our means."
After hearing the city's presentation, Board President Lisa Pelofsky tabled the issue for a month to seek other options.
The lab originally was designed to be 71,000 square feet, allowing space for 25 additional employees in the future. The proposal to reduce the lab to 54,000 square feet would only meet the department's current needs and allow the lab to hire only three more employees, said Lab Director Linda Netzel.
The lab also will lose a chance to have cutting-edge equipment and testing, she said.
"New technology could answer other questions beyond identifying somebody," she said. "We could get into fully fledged reconstructions of crime ... but that's going to have to be the first thing to go."
Instead, the new lab will focus on expanding basic services, which police haven't been able to provide in the current cramped 34,285-square-foot lab.
Netzel has been allowed to add only three positions in eight years and currently has six frozen vacancies. The lack of manpower caused a backlog of 800 cases in the drug chemistry unit and an average wait of eight months to process DNA samples, she said.
Police board member Alvin Brooks said he was upset that the only project paid for by the voter-approved sales tax increase that didn't come in under budget was in the inner city.
"There ought to be some way to fix this," Brooks said. "I just hate to see us scale this down to where it is, when we knew what we needed. This is disturbing."
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