cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner
This Blog promises to be too long...and I apologize up front. BUT, this topic is critical, in my estimation, to the safety of our citizens and our property. While we're getting everything on the table, you should know by now that "I am in the tank" for our Police Department; I make no bones about it and I am unapologetic for that!
I have had several exchanges with Chief Pete Hoell about the budget of his department and about the requests that have been made of him to further reduce his budget by something north of $300,000 for 2009. I have to tell you that he is anguished over this; he wants to remain a loyal servant of the community, he doesn't want to appear to be carping over the political situation, and he had some qualms about some of the information I'll make known in this Blog. In the final analysis, he came down on the side of letting the citizens of the community know what is going to happen if his budget is cut any further than has been the case over the past several years.
The budget numbers to date (as of yesterday) for the department were expected to approximate $4,501,000 for 2009 versus the $4,497,000 approved for 2008. That is virtually a 0% increase even though fuel prices have soared and even though personnel costs are what they are. The majority of the department budget is committed to wages and benefits since it is made up of people.
The actual discretionary operating budget, when the numbers represented above are stripped away is something on the order of $520,000. From that, we remove the base costs such as insurance, heat, water and sewer and have some $300,000 remaining for discretionary costs. As the chief pointed out, he has been reducing annual budget requests on a regular basis and is simply at the point where there is not much else, if anything, that can be cut.
The department is already relying on donations from the community as well as grants that are available to cover its needs. The DARE program is funded by the school district. Citizen's Police Academy (CPA) graduates are donating volunteer hours and are engaged in fund raising activities on behalf of the department. The CPA program actually pays back more than its cost to the department over and above the PR value gained. Officer Bosco's costs are funded by grants and donations. Contributions a couple of years ago raised by CPA graduates were used to replace many of the side arms carried by officers, for example. The motorcycle patrol is funded by contributions. Officers are already working extra hours without overtime pay; they get compensatory time off if and when that doesn't stretch the force too much. The department's gas costs went out of sight just as yours and mine did.
If you've toured the department's facilities, you will recall seeing a lot of "hand-me-down" equipment and furnishings. I don't think I've seen a desk that is any newer than circa 1960. Most of what I see has been donated by someone or other in the community. "New" equipment, if there is to be any, is often found on the 'for sale' sites of other police departments as they replace old items with new items. An old aquarium found its way to the evidence room for use as a finger print development tool. The buildings are on a "bare bones" basis; this is not a department that has an excess of funding nor is it a department that wastes taxpayer dollars. It scratches to make ends meet and continue to do its job.
Against that backdrop, permit me to get right to the point. I don't see any other areas where costs can be reduced but the area of personnel. That is going to impact you and me adversely. Period! The hoped for 0% increase budget of about $4.5M would become $4.2M if the $300K is stripped out.
One of the areas that Chief Hoell had some misgivings about disclosing is the number of officers on patrol during each shift. He discussed this with members of his command group and finally decided that, in the interest of full disclosure to the citizens, I could include this information:
We have a total of THREE officers on patrol each shift to cover the thirty-six square miles that comprise Germantown.
It is entirely possible that overlapping calls could mean that there is no one available to respond. One heavy-duty call could easily make that happen. The recent burglary of a Germantown construction site consumed all the patrol officers that were available. Situations requiring all three officers and the shift commander are not that unusual. During my ride-along, a pretty simple auto accident saw two officers and the shift commander on scene and also saw the vast majority of our fire department's on duty staff engaged along with vehicles of both departments. This was essentially a fender-bender. No one needed to be cut out of a vehicle; traffic control pretty much took care of itself since we were at a light-controlled intersection, etc.
The $300,000 cut being requested of this department could, and probably would, since there isn't anything further left to chop, cause staff cutbacks that would result in two officers available for patrol duties on each shift. That is an insufficient number considering the back-up required in many situations that are encountered. Bar fights are difficult if not impossible to control with two officers. Certain domestic abuse situations can easily require all three officers. Bank robberies obviously could pull all three into that scene. Our officers will be put in harm's way just as you and me will be adversely affected.
I used the phrase "cutting muscle instead of fat", or something to that effect, in an earlier Blog. I hope you now have a much better idea of what that meant.
What, you might ask, do I think we need at this point?
We need political leadership to go along with the excellent department leadership now in place. We need people to stand up and let their political leaders know that they do not want a weak Germantown Police Department even if taxes have to go up a bit to support it at the 0% growth number. We need to understand as a community that there comes a time when we have to pay for critical services.