To hold its proposed budget increase below the 2 percent threshold set by Mayor Art Ward, the police department plans to put off buying any new cars and may leave three positions unfilled in the coming year.
“There’s not a lot of options out there,” Ward said.
Delaying the purchase of police cruisers for the coming fiscal year would mean the department would seek to buy at least a dozen in the following year, said Capt. Daniel McIntyre. By then, he said, it would be “a safety issue” for officers.
McIntyre said he would like to see the city buy at least four cruisers this year – for $109,000 – in order to cushion the blow the next budget season, which is shaping up to be at least as difficult given projected state deficits for 2010.
Ward said he wouldn’t be surprised if the city comes up with the money to purchase the desired police cars this year, but doesn’t want to include it in the spending plan at this point.
The city’s police board gave its unanimous backing to the $13.44 million police budget this week, calling it as bare bones as possible without jeopardizing public safety.
“Our budget is salary heavy,” McIntyre said, so there’s not a lot to cut without reducing the number of officers on the payroll.
The approved spending plan is just shy of a 2 percent hike. If the three positions are not filled, it would total less than 1 percent.
Both Chief John DiVenere and Ward said it’s possible there may be federal money available to add officers. That would perhaps make it possible to add back the three officers and still hold the budget hike to less than 1 percent.
Ward said he would also like the police to explore changing the hours of one of two full-time animal control officers, who currently works from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
He said that if the records indicate it would save money, perhaps the job could run from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. in order to reduce the number of times an animal control officer is called in after leaving work.
If one is called, he gets at least four hour of overtime. Between them, the two animal control officers earn $10,000 in overtime annually, officials said. Ward said he would like to try to reduce that.
The police are looking at only two new equipment purchases for the coming year: a new digital arrest booking system to replace an aging, unsupported one and six more state-of-the-art defibrillators so every regular cruiser would have one.
McIntyre said the existing booking system can’t be relied on any longer. He said that if it fails, there’s no way to fix it.
“We’d go back to the stone age” in terms of logging in arrests, McIntyre said.
The budget also increases the allocation for maintenance of the existing cars since it would likely rise if there are fewer new cruisers than usual.
Ward said he recognizes the stinginess of the plan.
But, he said, “It’s going to be a tough, tough, tough year” for everyone as the city tries to cope with the impact of the recession.
Still, the mayor said, he won’t do anything that would “compromise the safety of any of our officers.”
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