Council denies SPD request for more officers

A budget request by Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway to hire more officers next year was denied by the City Council Tuesday, but the council indicated it will discuss further the need to boost the department’s manpower.

Most city departments presenting their proposed 2014 budgets to the council Tuesday said their proposals were relatively similar to 2013 budgets, resulting in an overall 1.06 percent increase in the city’s budget next year.

Departments presenting budgets Tuesday night included Police, Fire, Engineering and the Stillwater Public Library Board.

Gannaway said in his presentation that his department needs more officers to adequately cover the city on some shifts.

“At some point our personnel will have to increase. We’re getting by with the minimum possible right now. This year we’ve been above that minimum number but at some point we’ll need to hire more cops,” he said.

Gannaway said although having three officers on duty on any shift is optimal for a city of Stillwater’s size depending on the shifts, number of calls and other factors, the SPD runs with as few as two officers at a time, usually in the early-morning hours, with about 7.5 percent of shifts running at the bare minimum.

Although the council denied Gannaway’s request, council members decided to have further discussions on the hiring of additional personnel.

Capital items included in the SPD  budget include new patrol cars to replace aging vehicles, a security camera that can be placed in a various places and a downtown severe weather siren. The department also is working on seeking grants to get portable defibrillators back into squad cars.

The Fire Department’s only budget increase was hiring two full-time personnel approved earlier this year by council. Fire Chief Stu Glaser cut the part-time officer compensation budget by $30,000 to pay for the full-time hires.

The SFD also is setting aside money to buy new equipment that includes a truck in 2016 to replace a 1989 truck. Glaser said the life expectancy of trucks is about 20 years. He added that the department’s aging fleet has pushed maintenance costs past the budgeted amount by $8,000 this year.

“It’s getting more difficult to find parts. At first it was breaking in the hundreds of dollars but now it’s breaking in the thousands of dollars,” Glaser said. He added that the SFD keeps its trucks so long that the city doesn’t see much of a return when the vehicles are sold.   Both Glaser and City Administrator Larry Hansen said leasing fire vehicles would not work when asked if that was an option to acquire new equipment.

The library board reported that Stillwater Public Library Foundation fundraising accounts for 17 to 18 percent of the library budget. The library also will remain closed Sundays, with library officials saying it would cost $20,000 to $30,000 to open the facility Sundays.

Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki requested that city and library officials look into finding funds for Sunday hours at the library.

The library board also reported that E-book use has increased as well as rental of the library’s terrace. The library is already booking the terrace for 2014 events.
Councilman Tom Weidner asked about possibly contracting some of the city’s library work out to Washington County Library, since both systems are part of MELSA and work closely together. Library board members said the agreement establishing the city’s library at the start of the 20th century might prevent working more closely with WCL.
However, Hansen said the Weidner’s idea could be considered again starting with the city attorney and then approaching WCL officials to see if they would be interested in pursuing the option.

The engineering budget decreased this year because the city Water Board agreed to assume hydrant maintenance, according to City Engineer Shawn Sanders. Items in the proposed engineering budget from Sanders include increases in the asphalt budget due to rising prices and the sidewalk repair budget.

One item mentioned by Sanders and Hansen is that city officials will look next year at the assessment policy for street work due to the need to boost reserves in the city’s permanent improvement budget.

Money will be set aside to buy a new loader in 2016 and a roller compactor is slated to be replaced this year to help with street work. GPS units are on the department’s wish list to help improve efficiency and track snow removal and other services.
Preliminary budget approval will be sought at the Sept. 3 council meeting.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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