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W’bago discusses saving police job

By Staff | Apr 6, 2009

The Winnebago Police Department is looking for a shot in the arm to boost its force.

Actually, the City Council gave Police Chief Bob Toland the OK to seek funding from the COPS Hiring Recovery Program (CHRP) that’s part of the federal stimulus package.

At a special five-minute meeting Tuesday, Toland outlined criteria needed to be eligible for a grant.

The police chief says he wants to prevent any layoffs due to expected budget cuts in coming years.

The police department currently has three full-time officers and recently hired two for part time.

“Any opportunity to alleviate stress in our budget would be good,” Councilman Dana Gates says in support of applying for a grant.

Toland says he came up with the idea for the grant back in December when City Administrator Jennifer Feely asked department heads to trim their budgets.

“If I had to cut 25 percent I told her I could probably give her 30, because I would have to cut an officer,” he says.

Toland ended up cutting $11,000 and preliminary budget planning shows more could be in store.

“We’re probably going to have double the cuts to come,” he says.Because of state aid reductions, city officials trimmed this year’s budget by $63,000. For 2009, $51,000 was cut and another $107,000 is in store for 2010.

If the city is awarded a grant, it could be used to rehire a laid off officer or prevent a future layoff. It would provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and fringe benefits of full-time officers for three years. No local matching funds are required, but the city must pay the fourth year.

Toland says he’s almost done filling out the nearly 40-page grant application, which must be submitted by April 14.

Mayor Randy Nowak and City Attorney Douglas Johanson both have met with Toland to discuss COPS.

Nowak says possible layoffs were addressed.

Johanson says because of the nearing deadline, there’s a sense of urgency to get all the paperwork in order.

“That’s (the deadline) why we’re pushing it. This is really moving fast and there is a reasonable chance you can get a grant,” Johanson says.

Although he’s not sure if the Blue Earth Police Department is eligible for COPS funds, Police Chief Dean Vereide is working on an application anyway.

Vereide says he’ll be getting in touch with federal officials to get more information.

“You have to go for any funding you can. The application will be ready just in case we qualify,” he says.

When the state cut Local Government Aid monies three years ago, the police department cut one full-time position to the current six.

Vereide says he hopes to have answers by tonight’s City Council meeting so they can take action if necessary.

The Faribault County Sheriff’s Department has taken advantage of the COPS program before. However, that was several years ago.

Sheriff Mike Gormley says he was hired under the COPS in 1995 and he’s looking to see if his department is eligible.

“With tight funding nowadays, probably a lot of departments out there are looking at it,” he says.