Jackson County officials and the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday escalated their long-running battle over taxpayer support for Kauffman Stadium and the Truman Sports Complex.
Amid criticism of how the team uses tax dollars, County Executive Mike Sanders and Royals owner David Glass talked stadium spending in a rare phone call between the two.
The private talk yielded no resolution.
At the center of the conflict sits growing dissatisfaction in county government with stadium lease terms agreed to six years ago by the Royals and Chiefs, and the teams' insistence that the county stick to the deal.
The teams have long insisted their spending for some personnel costs, including taxes, are fully allowed by 25-year leases signed in 2006. Critics, including some in county government, argue such spending is unreasonable.
On Wednesday, Sanders and Glass discussed issuing a joint statement about the spending, but couldn't reach an agreement by day's end.
Sanders was unavailable for comment. In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Royals said they had "consistently" followed the terms of their lease. The Chiefs said they will continue to operate in "full compliance and cooperation" with the county, the Royals and the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority.
Tempers had clearly flared, but a Sanders spokesman downplayed the feud.
"We continue to work with the teams to resolve these issues in a way that protects the taxpayers," said Calvin Williford, Sanders' chief of staff.
Reports that the Royals and Chiefs spent taxpayer money on personnel costs and other expenses rocketed through the blogoshpere and on local sports talk radio Tuesday and Wednesday.
Some critics were particularly steamed that the teams had used taxpayer money to cover payroll taxes.
A special fund created by the leases typically collects $8.5 million in tax money each year from the state of Missouri, Jackson County and Kansas City. Under the leases signed in 2006, each team can use its half of the fund for a variety of expenses, including stadium staff costs, utilities and repairs.
That fund can't be used for player or front-office salaries and benefits, but can be used for "event day operations" at the ballpark.
The leases contain no prohibition on spending the money for the clubs' stadium-related payroll taxes.
At the heart of the dispute is the so-called RMMO account -- the acronym stands for repairs, maintenance, management and operations. Sanders and some county lawmakers have argued for years that the Chiefs and Royals need to spend more of that money on repairs and maintenance -- and less on management and operations.
They have contended the money might be needed to pay off bonds issued for the stadium upgrades, or should be banked for future ballpark improvements.
The Sanders camp has worried publicly that the teams have not submitted itemized lists of future improvements that may crop up in several years.
"We have to be a watchdog for the taxpayer," said Jackson County Legislator Dan Tarwater, who helped draft the 2006 leases. "If you put off something today, it is going to be twice as much tomorrow."
Critics also say taxpayers may not have fully understood that the leases set the stage not just to pay for updated stadiums, but also some ongoing team expenses.
But the clubs have resisted the push to set aside money given to the teams now for maintenance costs to come.
The RMMO money, they have said, is part of a signed lease. Any significant delay in paying claims could mean a default on the lease agreements, allowing either team to move from Kansas City.
The back-and-forth has continued for years. Officials say Sanders has sought a new memorandum of understanding with the teams restricting use of the RMMO money. The teams, with little incentive to renegotiate, haven't budged.
So Sanders has moved to gain more control of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, the five-member stadium oversight board. In the last session of the Missouri legislature he lobbied for a bigger role on the authority itself. That failed.
He recently opposed the reappointment of Beto Lopez to another five-year term on the authority, suggesting a replacement would cast a more critical eye on the teams' RMMO spending.
Lopez could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Sports Complex Authority member Deron Cherry called the Sanders-Royals dispute over stadium spending "political" but declined to comment further.
The Jackson County Legislature on Monday will interview potential nominees for Lopez's seat, which opened recently. Lopez is one of the applicants. Gov. Jay Nixon will make the final appointment.
Sources said the teams were furious with Sanders for the release of the teams' RMMO spending, including tax dollars used for payroll taxes and other operating costs. Details of that spending dominated local sports talk radio Wednesday, as well as several websites.
A Sanders spokesman denied the county executive, who is also chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, was involved in the release of ostensibly embarrassing documents that showed the teams' RMMO spending.
The RMMO fund isn't the only financial component of the teams' tenancy at the Truman Sports Complex. Each team pays roughly $1 million a year in rent, based in part on attendance. Both teams are current on their rent.
They get that, and more, back in management fees from the same fund.
The Sports Complex Authority said Wednesday it recently paid the Royals $1.8 million and the Chiefs $1.7 million.Yet the long-running stadium dispute over taxpayer support for the stadiums, combined with slower-than-expected sales tax collections, has left the county behind in its payments to the Royals.
An official with the Sports Complex Authority said Wednesday the county owes the Royals more than $2.6 million in back management fees. So far, though, the team has not tried to escape the lease.
This isn't new. Two years ago, the county was more than $2.5 million behind to the Chiefs and Royals combined.
It was not clear if the county owes the Chiefs any management money.
County officials said they will continue to pressure the teams into preparing a binding list of future projects, so they can be sure both clubs will have the resources to make the improvements when the time comes for needed repairs like new seats or plumbing.
If an agreement on a schedule can be reached, county officials said, the feud over stadium spending might disappear.
"They know they have to have that schedule," Tarwater said. "This will all get worked out."