City Council Expected To Cut Five Officers From Police Department Thursday Night
Buffeted by sharply declining city revenue, the Des Moines Council is scheduled to adopt a 2010 general and street funds budget tonight (Thursday, Dec. 10) that will cut five positions from the police department.
The $15,660,337 budget – based on total projected revenue of only $15,891,600 – reflects a reduction in revenue of almost $3 million in less than two years.
As currently structured, the new city budget will reduce to 49 the number of sworn officers and civilian employees in the police department.
“We’re struggling to maintain a basic level of city services across the board, and it’s unfortunate that we are in a position where we have to cut police services,” said Mayor Bob Sheckler.
“This is a clear call to the Des Moines community to do everything we can to rejuvenate the downtown business district to increase commercial activity and increase local revenue for the benefit of all.
“I am determined to work on the revenue side of the budget so in the future we will not have to face this kind of tough decision again,” Sheckler added.
Police Chief Roger Baker said, “I stand by the city council’s and city manager’s decision. The police department will do the best we can with what he have, and we thank the community for their support.”
While Des Moines Council members sustained on Dec. 3 their prior reduction of $879,221 in the 2010 police budget, they did reinstate a sergeant position that previously was eliminated.
This action followed a request by Baker that the current level of administrative positions be maintained, and that he be given flexibility to find the savings of $30,000 elsewhere in the department.
Baker told city lawmakers the higher level of internal oversight and accountability afforded by the additional sergeant is essential for professional management of the department to avoid problems that existed before he became chief in 2003.
The Des Moines Police Guild countered with a statement issued on Dec. 5 that charged the mayor and city manager with retaliation by forcing cuts on the department rather than accepting an offer to take reduced compensation for one year to help balance the city budget.
City Manager Tony Piasecki responded to that claim earlier this week, saying the police guild didn’t tell the public “the rest of the story” in its statement.
The guild wanted increased benefits from the city beyond 2010 if it agreed to concessions next year, Piasekci noted.
Council members did avoid another budget controversy on Dec. 3 when they agreed not to cut the city’s code enforcement officer.
The 2009 city budget reflected sharp cuts in every department except the police department, which sustained only marginal reductions.
With revenue continuing to decline and the police department accounting for about 50 percent of city operating expenses, Des Moines lawmakers had limited options available for balancing next year’s budget.
Then, when word got around in October that one alternative was to cut the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a public outcry from the community forced that possibility off the table.
This left the police department vulnerable to major cuts – yet public opposition has not risen to the level it did over possible closure of parks and recreation programs, or to the earlier threatened closure of Mt. Rainier Pool.
While there has been an undercurrent of support for maintaining the current level of police department staffing, not a single city resident spoke out during a hearing on the 2010 budget at the council’s Dec. 3 meeting.
The police guild said in the Dec. 5 statement that it “agreed to a one time surrender of a funded annual benefit, saving the City in excess of $70,000.”
But “in an unprecedented event,” the city officials again “met with the Guild in an effort to re‐open concessions negotiations on the existing contract … [for] an annual reoccurring cut in wages, amounting to approximately $62,000.”
The guild said it “countered again with a one time surrender” and agreed to respond to the city’s request – but instead the city retaliated by cutting almost $900,000 from the police department budget.
What the guild didn’t say, according to Piasecki, is that it wanted a lot more from the city in exchange for a “one-time surrender of a funded annual benefit.”
Piasecki recalled that during a negotiating session on Nov. 19, which included Sheckler and police guild representatives, the guild indicated it would be willing to accept either a reduction in the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) increase or a change to their health plan to save costs, or both.
“But in exchange for those concessions, they wanted one or more concessions from the city that would increase vacation time, increase the allowed cash-out of sick leave at the time of leaving city employment by adding a second category of sick leave cash-out, or increase other time off by increasing the number of hours off in lieu of paid compensation.”
He said the guild also wanted an increase from a minimum of 2 percent to a minimum of 3 percent in the COLA formula beyond next year, as well as other provisions that “would weaken the city’s management rights in scheduling employee shifts and in deciding whether any police services would be contracted out.”
Piasecki noted that “given how much we have cut [from other departments] in the past two years, there was very little cutting we could do without gutting departments or gutting programs” – crippling city government in the process – or completely eliminating Parks and Recreation, which public opinion is strongly opposed to.
“Do we make more cuts in the Finance Department?” he asked. If that were done, the city would be unable to track revenue and expenditures with accuracy, eventually creating problems with the State Auditor’s office.
Cutting the assistant city manager “would leave me without anyone to perform human resource duties,” Piasecki continued. “By cutting the city attorney, we would lose the checks and balances we need, and we would be unable to respond to lawsuits and prosecute crimes.”
And cutting planners would impact the city’s ability to maintain its comprehensive plan and review the shoreline master plan. “If we cut from those programs, we can’t comply with state law,” he said.
“The city council is working to maintain balance in the city. That’s why they’ve made the decisions and choices they have. But the budget is not adopted yet, even given all the work that’s been done to date, and it will not be until it gets at least four yes votes.”
City Councilman Dave Kaplan said “with a $2 million gap between expenses and revenue” when the budget process began, “it was clear we were going to have to take some pretty drastic actions … then we got 125 people at city hall saying don’t cut Parks and Recreation….
“We promised not to cut the parks department and we were not going to ask for any additional tax … none of us wants to cut cops, but we were left with no other option.”
Last year, Baker said, the police department absorbed budget cuts without cutting personnel by not replacing equipment. But the continuing revenue shortfall and budget-balancing decisions by the city council have made employee layoffs unavoidable next year.
Baker offered the city council four levels of proposed budget cuts:
- Freeze and unfund two “vacant” positions (those officers currently are assigned elsewhere with their salaries paid by other agencies) and freeze two vacant and unfunded civilian community service officer positions.
- Freeze and unfund one police officer position, lay off and unfund one civilian records specialist, and cancel the city’s contract with the emergency management coordinator that also serves SeaTac, Burien, and Normandy Park.
- Lay off two officers and freeze and unfund those positions.
- Lay off three more officers and freeze and unfund those positions as well.
“The council wants all four” budget-reduction options, Baker said. Combined, they will reduce the number of police department employees – officers and civilians – from 60, a number he agreed to last year, down to 49.
This means patrol teams will be reduced from five officers to four. Each patrol team still will have a supervising sergeant.
“All four cuts are taking hours from the proactive crime task force,” Baker noted, because task force members will be required at times to cover for patrol on calls for service.
As a result, the crime task force won’t have as much time to deal proactively with prostitutes, gangs and slumlords, which has been effective in reducing crime along Pacific Highway South, he added. “If we cut back too far, the gangsters and slumlords will begin to return.”
Fewer officers on patrol will “impact our response time to calls for service, and will impact the time our officers in the field have to investigate calls,” Baker predicted. “I think we can anticipate lower response times and less investigation.”
Although the city council has faced a difficult task in maintaining essential functions of each department as it balanced the 2010 budget, he observed “the litmus test is this: when you call 9-1-1, who answers?”
Baker did voice support for before- and after-school programs through the Parks and Recreation Department because they keep young people engaged in positive activities that keep them away from influence that could lead to gang involvement.