The Riley County Law Board has approved a $1.9 million increase to the RCPD budget for 2023, an increase of about 8.5 percent.

The increase, approved by a 6 to 1 measure Tuesday, more than doubles the 3.5 percent increase approved for 2022. It includes over $1 million in additional funds aimed at making RCPD more competitive in recruiting and retaining officers. The total overall budget now pushes to just slightly over $25 million.

“It costs money to do it right. Frankly it can cost more to not do it right, whether it’s somebody getting hurt because we didn’t have the man (or woman) power. It’s expensive to not do it right as well,” said Riley County Attorney and Law Board member Barry Wilkerson.

Under the new budget, RCPD employees will receive a 5.1 percent cost of living adjustment, an over $831,000 increase from 2022. There will also be a 0.58 percent increase on the base salaries, totaling over $133,000.

Riley County commissioner John Ford was the only Law Board member to oppose the increase, saying he would’ve preferred a more modest approach that solves RCPD’s long-term personnel goals versus a quick fix.

“This is a hard sell for me, just due to that because I know that there’s a larger picture with this. I think costs and affordability are going to be that new quality of life at some point in time and I feel like we’re all going to be chasing this same end game and that maybe in some point in time there maybe isn’t an end game,” he said.

The increase is part of a two-year phased approach to bring up salaries. RCPD Administrative Captain Josh Kyle has been selling the increases to Law Board members as an investment into public safety. At Tuesday’s meeting, he doubled down on that notion, stating that for years RCPD has become more reliant on unused personnel funds (leftover dollars from unfilled positions), due to consistent underfunding of the police department.

“It’s almost like debt. You just get to the point where how much under-funding can you have in some of these accounts before it becomes financially a problem? I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to that yet. We still consistently receive somewhere between $450,000 to $1 million at the end of the year, but if we had decent employment and some significant costs come up, we could find ourselves with a budget of about zero at the end of the year,” he said.

Law Board member Pat Hudgins likened the move by the board to that of purchasing insurance.

“The insurance of knowing that you’re there and that we can retain you. And that is a minimal of what I think we can do in times like this,” she said.

Current Law Board Chair, Manhattan Mayor Linda Morse noted the reason for her vote Tuesday is due to a lack of American Rescue Plan Act funds to RCPD.

“This is an unusual year because there has been ARPA money in the city and the county, but there is no ARPA money in RCPD. To me, that is rationale for our need to make sure the police are funded to a level that we can expect to have a high quality of policing here,” she said.

Riley County commissioner Kathryn Focke, who opposed last year’s 3.5 percent increase on the RCPD budget, was more receptive of the larger increase, despite what it likely means for the Riley County mill levy going forward.

“Being a taxpayer, I hate to see the mill levy increased, It’s not necessary, but I think this is necessary to keep our consolidated district together and have the right people, but I think we really need to educate and tell people where we’re at and the public why we’re asking for this amount of money,” she said.

The increase is part of a two-year phased approach to bring up salaries, a result of a comprehensive salary study conducted earlier this year by The Arnold Group, which noted RCPD lost its competitive edge in the local job market.

According to data provided by RCPD at the Law Board meeting Tuesday, there are 1.49 police officers per 1,000 residents, significantly lower that the state (3.74) and national (2.4) ratios. RCPD says past research, supported by recent inquiries, has revealed RCPD’s percentage of the City and County’s overall budget is comparable to or lower than similarly-sized agencies in the region.