The Columbus City Council spent much of their budget meeting Tuesday scrutinizing the police department, in an attempt to make a dent in the $1.58 million they needed to cut to balance the city”s budget.
One of the main goals seemed to be to limit overtime in the department. Last year, the city had to add $150,000 to the police department”s $200,000 overtime budget. Through June, the city already has paid $252,066.67 in overtime to the police department. It has $300,000 budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The department requested $350,000.
At the current rate, Mike Bernsen, chief financial officer for the city of Columbus, projects the city will pay $340,000 in overtime by the close of the fiscal year.
The police department recently beefed up its numbers from 69 officers to 74, though the additional five cannot patrol alone until they complete training.
“With 74 people, it should be a lot less overtime,” said Mayor Robert Smith. “If not, we”re wasting money.”
Ward 2 City Councilman Joseph Mickens noted that last year, one officer managed earn so much in overtime ($36,000), his pay was more than the mayor.
“We”re not gonna have that again, are we?” he asked.
“It”s definitely gonna have to be managed,” Smith said.
In addition to more officers, Interim Police Chief Selvain McQueen”s reassignment of veteran officers to the streets should cut down on overtime, Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin noted.
Also expected to cut overtime is the addition of a training officer, so officers do not have to travel so much for training.
“It also hopefully will generate funds when we can restart our academy and bill other agencies for training,” McQueen said.
The City Council also slashed $94,330 budgeted for seven new police cars to $18,000, to purchase one. Woody Clark, who manages the city garage, said the police department, which has more than 80 cars, lost about five vehicles to wrecks or other incidents that totaled them.
Smith said he didn”t understand why the department needed more vehicles when he sees 10 cars sit idle at the police department every weekend. McQueen noted some of those vehicles are “draw cars,” available in case a vehicle goes down.
He also noted the department has four shifts, which three drivers assigned to each car, and each car must “rest” for an entire shift. There also are cars assigned solely to certain supervisors.
McQueen has recruited a retired driver”s education instructor to offer mandatory classes for police officers. He hopes the initiative will cut down on accidents.
In hopes of bringing additional revenue into the city, McQueen has assigned an officer to deliver warrants full time.
Lou Dudley, municipal clerk, said the city has about $4 million in delinquent fines.
“I think that $4 million, even if it”s not going to be popular, I think that needs to be aggressively tackled,” said Kabir Karriem, Ward 5 councilman.
The city held an amnesty program this year and last, waiving contempt-of-court fines if offenders pay for their original fine during a certain time frame. In 2010, the program brought in $438,160 during the two-month period advertised. This year”s program was not as successful, Dudley said.
Dudley suggested judges require defendants to come to court prepared to pay some or all of their fine; otherwise, they should be jailed.
“They will not pay if they know they won”t go to jail,” Dudley said.
Though the city does have a work program for the unemployed, when word gets out that judges aren”t putting offenders in jail, “even people with money won”t pay” their fines, she said.
Councilmen asked for Columbus Municipal Court judges Marc Amos and Nicole Clinkscales appear before them during a budget meeting this afternoon, if today”s court sessions are finished. Municipal court will begin hearing felony cases at 1:30 p.m. The budget hearing begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall.
Overall, with cuts in such areas as overtime, appropriations to local agencies, special projects and equipment purchases, the City Council was able to slash about $1.21 million from the city”s expenditures, bringing the deficit down to about $360,000.
The city”s revenues are projected at $22.55 million.