The Missouri State Auditor just released an audit of Jackson County’s Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax (COMBAT) Fund. It’s a doozy. The auditor uncovered that the county legislature failed to properly oversee spending, engaged in questionable real estate transactions, and misused funds. None of this should be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. As we pointed out in 2016, it is difficult to discern in any meaningful way a positive impact from these programs.
Auditor Nicole Galloway wrote: “The county has not developed a plan for ensuring that performance evaluations of the programs funded by COMBAT are performed annually as required by county code.” She recounted how the county sold a building to the Independence School District for $10 “without an independent appraisal or cost-benefit analysis” after spending $1 million in COMBAT funds on renovating the building. But perhaps her biggest hit was on failure to oversee contracts:
The County Legislature appropriates COMBAT funds to outside agencies, without going through the comprehensive process the COMBAT unit follows in awarding similar contracts to agencies. The contracts awarded to one outside agency by the County Legislature, totaling $120,000 during 2017 and 2018, were a questionable use of COMBAT monies.
In a story on the audit in The Kansas City Star, Mike Hendricks wrote that, “Galloway alleged no criminal wrongdoing and offered few surprises,” because the audit:
. . . largely mirrored findings of the private accounting firm that Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker hired in late 2018 to review the drug and anti-violence program she now oversees. Baker released that report on COMBAT last fall.
In response, the Jackson County COMBAT Communications Administrator issued a release welcoming the audit and pledging to make changes. The county also set up a webpage where people can make anonymous allegations of mismanagement of funds.
This is welcome, but as we pointed out in 2016, the problem is not merely that a few contracts may have been mishandled, but that there is scant evidence this anti-crime tax is doing anything to reduce crime. Kansas City is in the midst of a years-long, nation-leading spike in homicides. Can anyone argue that if the COMBAT program were suspended entirely that anything would change? The onus is on the county to make its case, and if it cannot, the program should be dismantled.