Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Police chief: Levy matter of survival

POSTED: April 21, 2010

SALEM - With police manpower down 32 percent in the past three years, Chief Bob Floor said he would encourage a citizen-backed petition for a safety levy to keep "the city from decaying."
It's a matter of survival, he told city council on Tuesday, and pointed to the four department lay-offs on March 3, the recent resignation of an officer, and the loss of three officers who were not replaced three years ago.
Officers are already feeling the pressure from the lay-offs, Floor said, explaining the department is manned by three officers 37 percent of the time, which means there are times one officer can be in the station doing paperwork leaving two officers on the street.
"We've already had several requests for time off denied due to not enough manpower," Floor said, adding police work is high stress and "unlike the private sector," customers don't come in and make purchases.
Like Fire Chief Jeff Hughes said weeks ago, Floor said he "still can't understand laying off while paying overtime" adding he has yet to see anyone's unemployment run out after 26 weeks and not be extended another 26 weeks.
A levy needs the support of the people to succeed and Floor said he would support an effort spearheaded by citizens.
Regarding other layoffs, a joint Civil Service Commission and committee of the whole meeting was set for 6 p.m. April 26 to deal returning a firefighter to work who is qualified for Subsidized Employment Program (SEP) money.
The funds are channeled through the Salem Area Industrial Development Corporation. There is $154,000 in SEP money available through Jobs and Family Services. Part of the amount is used administratively for the program.
Law Director Brook Zellers recommended that council meet with the Civil Service Commission, and "if possible" wanted a representative of the firefighters' union to attend.
Last week, Mayor Jerry Wolford requested a meeting with the Civil Service Commission to discuss the legal aspects of calling back a laidoff firefighter.
Larry Kosiba, executive director of the SAIDC and the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, said previously there is an opportunity to bring someone back through mid-September when the money, which would be used for wages and benefits, runs out.
Firefighters work under Civil Service Commission law, but Kosiba wondered if there wasn't "... a rule that says you can't do it ..." He suggested a waiver or "permission to bypass it for a very short period of time."
Wolford said there was the issue of Civil Service retention points, adding it was his understanding the eligible person was not the next in line to be recalled under Civil Service. He said it was a Civil Service issue.
About 44 guests attended the meeting and resident Douglas Pfouts, who presented council with 250 petition signatures against the layoffs last month, said forums would be set up in the city's four wards to address the safety forces issue.
They will begin in the Fourth Ward, he said, and invited Wolford and Council President Mickey Cope Weaver.
Aveyah Cline addressed the layoffs and questioned how the police department staffing will handle overtime during upcoming events like the Quaker City Weekend Cruise. She commended Councilwoman Mary Ann Dzuracky's effort to find revenue, saying, "You're ideas that should be looked at."
Rupert Cline, who along with his wife, Aveyah, said he resigned from Crime Watch, was concerned about children. "What's going to happen to them? Are they going to be safe?" he asked.
Also, police dispatcher Tina Cutright challenged other members of council to schedule ride alongs with police officers. Cope Weaver and Councilman Brian Whitehill said they rode with officers. Cutright questioned why two laid-off street department employees were allowed to remain on the job, collecting unemployment, until they retired in June and asked why police department secretary Debbie Kyser wasn't "given the (same) opportunity to retire?"
She said the detective now works in uniform and instead of investigating cases, "he's out answering calls" and doubted the drug task force, which the city had contributed an officer to, would put a lot of effort into Salem "because we don't have an officer in there."
Cutright also questioned why grants were researched to purchase the Quaker City Raceway property but the same effort wasn't put into grants to retain police officers.
Josh Kruegel presented a rundown on police call activity from the March 3 lay-off date until April 9, and from January through March. He said a total of 1,923 calls were answered in three-and-a-half months and pointed out that at times there is an officer in the station while there are two on the street.
In other business, Wolford said eight bids were received to dredge Buttermilk Creek along Pennsylvania Avenue. The apparent lowest and best bid was $98,191. Part of that will be paid for with a $75,000 OMEGA grant.
Service Safety Director Steve Andres addressed the street department lay-offs, explaining he spoke to the union president because there was "bumping" that would take place.
He said two employees talked about retiring who had unemployment benefits that wouldn't be there when they retire.
Also, the department receives partial funding of $150,000 from the general fund, unlike the police and fire departments which are completely funded by it. Gasoline and license plate fees fund most department operations and Andres said there was one employee off for medical reasons and another with a foot injury.
"That was the logic and thinking," he said.
Andres also said the city will conduct a tire collection in the municipal lot across from Timberlanes beginning at 8 a.m. this Friday through 3 p.m.
The tires must be off the rims and they will only accept a limit of four passenger car tires per person. No heavy duty, truck or farm tires will be accepted.
Andres said a 90-day test on the traffic signalization system will conclude on June 22 and expects some "drastic" timing changes during the first week of May.
Also, crews began hot patching the streets on Tuesday
In other business, a finance committee meeting was set for 8 a.m. April 28 to address a magistrate court that has been proposed by Zellers.
Larry Shields can be reached at

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