Council considers cuts to Farmington police forceAnd now, the fight to save funds – and possibly, jobs – begins. On Monday, the Farmington City Council took a second look at the working document for the 2013 and 2014 budgets.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
And now, the fight to save funds – and possibly, jobs – begins.
On Monday, the Farmington City Council took a second look at the working document for the 2013 and 2014 budgets. City administrator David McKnight is working with the council to come up with a workable budget for the next year. McKnight presented a budget proposal roughly $250,000 less than the original document this week, but the document presented this week sill represented a 6.89 percent increase to the tax levy.
McKnight said that number will drop as council works though this year’s budget process. The city needs to have a preliminary budget and tax levy by mid-September, and a final budget by December.
In order to whittle down that number, council members have asked to look at the operations of departments within the city. This week’s session started off with proposals from the police and fire departments.
Earlier this year, Farmington’s community service officer resigned. That position will not be replaced, which reduces the police department’s budget by $27,000. Additionally, one of the police department’s administrative staff positions has been reduced from full time to half time, as the employee has agreed to enter into a phased retirement program. That cut loosens up another $35,000 in the police department’s budget.
Before the budget process is complete, council members will have to decide whether they want to support two school resource officers for next year, or just one. For the 2011-12 school year, there were three SROs on staff – one at the high school, and one at each of the middle schools. Funding for the SROs had come through an agreement between the city of Farmington and School District 192, with ISD 192 paying salaries for the SROs during the school year, and the city paying the salaries of those officers over the summer months.
However, budget cuts at the school district have caused school officials to reduce the number of SROs to one in the upcoming year. They will continue to have an SRO in the high school, and one SRO to work the middle schools, from the beginning of the school year until Dec. 31. However, district funding for the second SRO – most likely, the one at the middle school level – will be gone after Jan. 1.
“I’m not done fighting that battle,” police chief Brian Lindquist said. “I still believe two is the magic number at the schools.”
But that’s not necessarily how council members feel. If a second SRO were to stay in the schools, it would likely be up to the city to pay the full salary. And if the two officers who were SROs last year are put back into police patrol or investigations, council member Julie May argued there could be room for elimination of one, if not two positions in the upcoming year. Council member Terry Donnelly isn’t sure he wants to foot the bill for a second SRO next year, either.
Lindquist, though, said the officers are needed, regardless of whether they’re in a school or on the streets. If the second SRO position is eliminated, chances are it will be someone on patrol or from investigations that has to respond to calls from the middle schools anyway, especially if the high school SRO is already dealing with an incident.
Taking a better to be safe than sorry approach, Lindquist warned that cutting police positions will put more work – and stress – on officers. Some days are very quiet, he acknowledged, but in cases of large-scale incidents, he needs as many officers as possible on the scene.
“We have to cover round-the-clock. I can’t look at a calendar and know when a situation is going to arise,” he said. “I don’t want them coming to work, worrying about if their jobs are in jeopardy. I want them coming to work, ready to make traffic stops and respond to domestics.”
McKnight and Lindquist indicated there may be some other financial options the police department can present to council before the budget is complete. Council members directed them to work on those proposals and bring the information back for consideration at a later date.
With a list of equipment that needs replacement, the Farmington Fire Department also has some big purchases to plan for in the upcoming years.
The fire department is already getting a new engine in the coming year, but there are other vehicles that are on the short list for replacement. One of the brush trucks tops that list. Brush 12 is currently out of service, Farmington fire marshal John Powers said, because a pump in the motor went out. The vehicle is so old that finding pieces to fix the problem is not easy. On occasion, the vehicle is used to transport firefighters to a fire scene, but otherwise it is useless to the department, Powers said.
Replacing that vehicle would cost an estimated $85,000. That, and a new fire chief’s vehicle, are the biggest needs in the next year, but the department is also looking for approximately $50,000 to do maintenance to fire station 1 and purchase replacement equipment.
While the expenditures are big, and would mean increasing the budget, council member Christy Jo Fogarty wants to use caution before including or excluding anything on the fire department’s list.
“I don’t want to say no to equipment that next year could cost a life,” she said.
Not all of the council members agreed with Fogarty, but they acknowledged the need for the brush truck. They directed McKnight to continue working on the budget.
The city council may hold another budget workshop July 23, if a scheduled Economic Development Authority meeting falls though. McKnight suggested that may be a good time to look at parks and recreation, Rambling River Center and the city’s municipal liquor operations.