Extra police officers budgeted

GREENFIELD — Some city departments should have an extra set or two of hands next year.

During budget meetings this week, several department managers requested money to hire additional staff to help lighten the load. In all, the Greenfield City Council approved funding to hire six new employees — five full-time and one part-time — next year.

The positions include two police officers, two wastewater treatment plant employees, an IT employee and a part-time parks department employee. The starting salary for police is $42,000; wastewater treatment plant employees start at about $31,000; the IT employee will be paid up to $52,000 depending on duties; and a part-time parks employees can make up to $15 per hour. That totals about $213,000.

The city’s budget approach — approving funding for new hires and raises — comes in contrast to the county’s. Hancock County approved 4.5 percent raises for county employees next year, while denying requests to fund extra staff.

Greenfield Police Chief John Jester requested funds to help pay for two new police officers in 2016, adding to the department’s 40-officer roster.

The budget he requested for officer salaries next year — a figure that doesn’t include benefits — is about $130,000 higher than for 2015, he said. The total also includes a $1,000 pay raise for all employees.

The department is getting busier, he said. As the population grows, residents’ needs grow, and the department is often stretched thin, he said.

He said national standards recommend one police officer for every 500 residents. The department met that standard until the last Census. Hiring two new officers would bring it back up to national standards.

“In the eight years I’ve been the chief, I’ve never asked for new officers,” he said. “I felt like two was very fair. I’d like to have four, realistically.”

Council members approved his request, saying public safety is an area where they don’t want to skimp.

But when city engineer Karla Vincent and IT director Nick Riedman requested additional staff, those requests were denied.

Riedman’s request was approved only after utilities director Mike Fruth said the city’s utilities heavily rely on the department and offered to pay for the new employee out of the utilities budget.

Council member Judy Swift said an extra person in the engineering department would cost about $51,000 before benefits were added. She didn’t see a dire need for a new employee or understand how the city could realistically pay for one.

There are caps for how much the city can collect from residents in taxes, and funding extra positions and additional raises would bring officials closer to that cap, she added.

“Where do we get the money?” she asked.

Council member Jason Horning said the council approved some requests for new hires because departments brought documentation that showed they needed another staff member to maintain efficiency.

The wastewater treatment department, for example, requested two new employees to help the department tackle sewer maintenance. That request was approved.

Superintendent Dave Scheiter said an extra pair of workers would help his department tackle some of the larger projects it hasn’t been able to get to in recent years.

He hasn’t created new positions since 1991, he said. But now, they’re needed. Aging systems require more maintenance and eat up a lot of workers’ time.

“Seventy percent of our man hours are going to storm sewers, and we’re falling behind on sanitary,” he said. “We just can’t get caught up. … Of course, we put out the fires.”

The utilities have funding to cover the costs of two new employees, Fruth said, and it wouldn’t result in a rate increase for utility customers.

Horning, who is finishing his third and last term on the council, said the wastewater department has dealt with a number of hurdles during his 12 years on council. Annexations have resulted in more work for the department, he said.

“I think you guys have done a real good job,” Horning said. “You guys have really tried to squeeze yourself to the max.”

The council also approved funding to create a part-time coordinator position for the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum, which is overseen by the parks department.

Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.