Baldwin Borough Manager John Barrett and the Baldwin Council have erased an initial $1,059,742 budget shortfall for 2013 after Barrett has made cost-cutting and revenue-producing suggestions to the council during special budget meetings this fall, including one on Tuesday night.
But Barrett and the borough councilmen will have to become more resourceful if they are to approve Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott's request to add another patrol officer to his staff. Scott made that request on Tuesday, and Barrett said that the potential new hire would mean an additional approximately $70,695 per year in borough spending, including things like health insurance for the officer.
Chief Scott argued that, often, his department is only able to deploy three total patrol officers at one time in what he calls Baldwin's four police zones—north Baldwin, south Baldwin, the Route 51 corridor and The Residences of South Hills apartments complex.
Scott said that, since some officers are off of work for periods of time for things such as family medical leave, vacation, et al., it often becomes difficult to find appropriate levels of staffing while keeping overtime pay to a minimum. He also said that certain situations arise that require pulling officers away from their normal patrols.
"Any serious calls that come up, any backup that's needed for officers," Scott said, "one or two of the other officers from the other zones have to be there to cover them."
Scott said that, even if his department were to consider the borough as having only three zones (the Residences complex excluded), it is still difficult to have reliable service in each zone given the department's current staffing level.
"We have things that happen every day," Scott said. "We're running short because we're trying to cover this whole borough with one person in each section of the borough. It just doesn't work."
Councilman Michael Stelmasczyk pointed out that the borough's leaders have increased police spending recently for supervisory positions like sergeants and lieutenants, but Scott said that those expenses do not increase the department's roster size.
"The supervisors are also functioning as patrol officers," Scott said.
Countered Stelmasczyk, "You guys keep taking a bite every time. I just feel like I was not told the truth last year when we made these administrative changes. I was assured that we did not need the people."
But Scott and Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. denied claiming, in preparation for the 2012 budget, that the department did not need more staff.
Councilman Larry Brown said that the confusion may come from the absence of an officer on long-term leave whom Baldwin police thought would be rejoining the force for 2012. It appears now that that officer will not return, causing a continued shortage in staffing.
"We'll be sitting here next year (having this same conversation)," Stelmasczyk said. "I can almost guarantee it."
Said Brown, "I can't believe that, with a community of 20,000, we're operating four districts with three patrol officers. Now, where does that serve public safety?"
Said Councilman John Ferris, "Where does that make sense?"
"It doesn't," Brown said.
Barrett has been adding revenue and decreasing expenses after seeing the borough's initial $1-million-plus shortfall for 2013. After Tuesday's meeting, he has made recommendations that range from instituting a 105-percent adjustment of a revenue-neutral millage rate to trimming thousands of dollars off of borough expenses like solid waste collection, fire vehicle fuel allocation, code enforcement, parks maintenance and others.
In fact, after dropping the borough's 2013 shortfall down to $346,134 after a Sept. 24 meeting, Barrett's further-adjusted budget for the council on Tuesday night actually showed a $5,696 surplus. But that number does not factor in the new hire that Scott is asking for.
Stelmasczyk requested that, should the hiring of another officer be approved, other police items should be considered for cost-cutting.
The borough's next budget meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of the borough municipal building along Churchview Avenue. The meeting is open to the public, and should circumstances dictate, it would be moved to the municipal auditorium of the same building.
Public Works Director Mark Stephenson is expected to argue for another employee, as well, at the Oct. 23 meeting. Stephenson's potential new hire, Barrett said, would mean an additional approximately $52,000 per year in borough spending, including benefits.
Before the end of the year, the Baldwin Council must approve or reject Scott's and Stephenson's requests in line with approving a balanced 2013 budget. (UPDATE: Stephenson is no longer expected to ask for another Public Works employee.)
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