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Police budget scrutinized

By Staff | Nov 15, 2008

Although they looked at several areas of the 2009 budget, the Blue Earth City Council put the police department’s finances under the microscope last Monday.

On the bubble were five items which could be either cut, postponed, or changed.

The council looked at postponing the purchase of a new four-wheel-drive patrol unit – something listed at $35,000 on the capital improvement list.

In fact, Councilman Rick Scholtes went so far as to suggest not purchasing a four-wheel-drive at all, and getting a squad car instead.

“How much is the difference that we would save,” he questioned. City Administrator Kathy Bailey responded that a squad would cost $22,000, a savings of $13,000.

Councilmen Dick Maher and Dan Brod both felt a four-wheel-drive is necessary, especially for patrolling before the streets are plowed.

“How often is it actually used,” Scholtes asked. The council instructed Bailey to research and track that use over the next months.

The council also debated the savings of leasing a squad car over purchasing one. Currently the city leases one vehicle from a state program – one which includes gas as part of the lease.

“I have looked at the costs and I think we should purchase the next squad,” Bailey told the council. “Unless repairs and maintenance run more than $4,564 over the three years of the lease, we will be ahead – and we would still have a vehicle to sell or run longer if we should need to.”

Councilman Maher said he felt the lease was a “helluva” good deal when they first agreed to it, and was surprised it doesn’t work out.

Mayor Rob Hammond agreed, and said he figured with gas at nearly $4 per gallon the lease was saving them money. Bailey, however, said she based her calculations on gas being over $3 per gallon.

Next police expenditures discussed were computer monitors. The police department had five computers donated to them, but need to purchase monitors, a budget item of $3,500.

“It isn’t just monitors, it is also software for the computers,” Bailey told the council. “They have no software on them.”

Council members questioned why the department would need five computers, and why one computer could not be shared.

“Currently they have two laptops that are shared,” Bailey reported. “This way each officer would have their own desktop computer.”

In the end the council decided to take a computer which is being replaced in the bookkeeping department at the city hall, and transfer it to the police department, and not purchase monitors.

The last two items discussed included not replacing an officer, cutting the size of the police force.

Bailey said this could be accomplished by having the chief do more patrolling, and by going to an ‘on-call’ system. This would mean officers would be on patrol for part of their shift, and at home, but on-call, for part of it.

“Typically, on-call pay is less than on-duty pay,” she said, adding that it works well in other cities.

“Of course, we would have to work with our police union on this change,” she said.

The Police Department portion of the 2009 city budget totals $612,836. Of that amount, $460,258 is personnel costs, and $44,900 is listed for capital outlay.

Councilman John Huisman did questioned why the council was looking so hard at the police budget.

“I think all departments should be looked at,” Huisman stated. “This list looks like all, or most, is coming out of the police department.”

The council spent some time discussing implementing an incentive program to reward department heads who did not use up all of their budget allotment.

They also agreed to support a three percent increase in the property tax levy for 2009. The amount will actually be set at a later date.

“This is the earliest we have ever completed work on the majority of the budget,” Mayor Hammond said.

Bailey pointed out to the council that if the levy increase is set at just three percent, no Truth in Taxation hearing will be necessary in the city this year.