Council directs staff to find money for additional officer

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By SHELLY WILKISON

City staff continued its presentation of a proposed budget this week that some council members believe falls short when it comes to police department staffing.

On Monday, the second of three scheduled budget workshops, it appeared that the majority of council members were leaning toward the addition of a second new patrol officer position in the coming fiscal year. Although no vote could be taken in the workshop, the majority of members expressed that they wanted staff to find the funds to pay for another patrol officer.

Chief Maverick Campbell said that bringing the number of officers to eight would be “the ideal staffing situation” allowing the department to provide around-the-clock patrols without gaps in service when someone attends training, becomes ill or takes vacation time.

Already included in the department’s $693,900 spending proposal is the addition of one officer position and two new vehicles. That is the plan that has the support of city administrators, who say the funds are not available to add a second officer position.

While Campbell admitted that a seven-member staff could get the department to 24-hour operations, there would continue to be gaps in service when officers have to be out.

“We’ve had a number of requests to get another police officer,” said Mayor Connie Fuller. “How can we do that?”

City Administrator Greg Boatright said he believed the addition of one officer plus the department’s ability to work officers 84 hours in a two-week pay period, plus the addition of some overtime, and the use of three reserve (unpaid) officers would be sufficient. The police department’s current budget proposal includes $2,500 for overtime expenses for the year.

“We’re doing everything we can in this year’s budget to address the 24/7 coverage,” Boatright said.

Boatright told the Council that the Chief would also be exploring possible grants to fund an additional position.

“That would allow us to absorb that (cost) into our budget in three years rather than taking all the hit in one year,” Boatright said.

However, the Chief said it would take six months to one year to secure funding, if Liberty Hill qualified for a grant.

Assistant City Administrator Amber Lewis said when looking at the tax revenue, which is the only source of funding that can be used to pay for the police department, only $34,100 would remain after the proposed $693,900 department budget. The $34,100 is used to pay a portion of the City’s non-police salaries. Tax notes and one-time fees cannot be used for salaries, she said

During the first budget workshop Aug. 22, it was estimated that the cost for adding another officer position was $60,000. Campbell said a vehicle for that officer would not be needed. He reaffirmed that on Monday.

“We can nickle and dime it (the budget) to death until we find it (the money to hire another officer),” said Council member Liz Rundzieher. “I think we need to put two (additional officers) in next year’s budget and work to find the money.”

“I think the staff needs to come up with the money to get that other officer,” added Council member Wendell McLeod. “We need it. We can delay the other things for a while.”

Fuller added that the public’s demand for around-the-clock police operations is unprecedented.

“This is something that since I’ve been here it’s unprecedented that the community is saying this is something they need and want. It’s important that we listen to them. Public safety is very important so if there’s a way to pull it together and fund this person…

“I think what we’re saying is the Council is wanting to find some way to fund another officer, so let’s start looking and find a way to do this,” Fuller said.

“We will have lots of people coming in for all these things Gilianne (Carter Thomas, the newly-hired community development coordinator) is planning for us,” said Rundzieher. “This is not just a whim I have, we need the officers.”

Campbell said he would be adding the rank of Lieutenant and promoting from within. The additional rank will not add costs to his proposed budget.

The Council and staff also discussed the proposed budgets for street maintenance and the wastewater fund.

The proposed budget for street maintenance includes a projected $174,000 for street and some drainage improvements in the new fiscal year. The plan also calls for up to $100,000 in improvements to Hillcrest Lane.

Wastewater Fund includes proposed allocations for a 3 percent pay increase for employees paid by the wastewater fund, plus one full-time engineer, a full-time public works entry level technician and a full-time billing clerk.

“The wastewater fund is underwriting a large portion of our budget on salaries because a large portion of our time is spent on that,” Boatright explained.

McLeod questioned the practice of utilizing monies in various funds to reimburse expenses for salaries and other operations.

“You will remember the horrors of when we didn’t have anyone in finance and former council members were balancing the budget,” said Boatright. “What we don’t want to ever repeat again is for the General Fund to pay for everything.”

He explained that the process is more transparent when staff time and expenses are charged back to the department or fund for which the work is being done.

“When you’re running a city and you’re wanting to be accountable to the citizens, the council… it’s the audit trail we’re creating,” Boatright said.

Tax notes and one-time fees cannot be used for salaries, she said. Boatright reminded the Council that development agreements on wastewater service will pay $1 million of the costs to build the city’s new administration building without going into debt or spending tax dollars.

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