Monday, July 12, 2010

Better times ahead

Mayor Beutler’s proposed budget was released to the public yesterday, and will receive wide media coverage today.  Bits and pieces of it have been coming out during the past week, but the whole enchilada is out there now.  There are some significant cuts, and for the first time this includes substantial cuts to the police department.  We will be losing 10 employees—our entire paraprofessional staff of public service officers, and one senior office assistant who provides technical support to our training staff. 

Although the news media hasn’t seemed to grasp this, the PSOs do much more than downtown parking meter enforcement: they handle thousands of complaints from the public about parking problems all over the city, they deal with abandoned vehicle complaints, wheel tax evaders, traffic direction and control, found property, abandoned bicycles, assistance at traffic crashes, and a myriad of other duties that don’t require the authority of a sworn police officer. Of the nine PSOs, only four (actually, one is half-time, so it’s 3.5 of 8.5) deal with downtown parking enforcement.

Making these cuts isn’t easy.  These are 10 dedicated City employees who average 23.1 years of service and work hard every day.  I had to look them in the eye and tell them that they are not included in the budget, and it is through absolutely no fault of their own.  In addition, we will be expected to find $375,000 in savings by watching the line items closely and by throttling our hiring of replacement staff carefully. As painful as this has been, I also realize that other City departments have dealt with these kinds of cuts for the past several years, when the police were for the most part immune from reductions.

Like most municipal governments in the United States, we have some significant financial challenges.  As painful as this is, we are better off than most.  Since we are dependent on over $600,000 in Federal revenue that is contingent on maintaining our sworn police officer strength at 321, the need for budget cuts at the police department required finding those cuts among our civilian staff. 

In some respects, cutting civilian support staff is not good management.  I have spent my professional life in management trying to civilianize jobs that did not require the services or more expensive police officers, and now we seem to be going backwards in this regard.  I don’t know any other way to do it, though, when faced with a budget cut, than to prioritize the work, and drop those services that have the least connection to our core mission: “…to provide quality police services that promote a safe and secure community.” 

I am something of a student of history, and this I know from that hobby:  nothing stays the same, history repeats itself, everything is cyclical, and there will be better times ahead.  In the meantime, we must be committed to delivering the best services we can with the resources that we are provided with by the citizens of Lincoln.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

And the Fed gov spends $240,000.00 so a turtle can cross the road in a safe way. Yep, in Florida, GO STIMI FUNDS!
It was not long ago and the exciting news of job creation is exposed.
This is "Change we can" believe in?
Thank you Govt leaders for showing what is really important.

Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that the Mayor's office used to have two or three Assistants for the mayor, and he is now up to 10. What's the pay grade on a Mayoral Assistant job compared to a PSO?

Buck said...

"Since we are dependent on over $600,000 in Federal revenue that is contingent on maintaining our sworn police officer strength at 321.."

Can you elaborate on this a little, Chief? How is the Federal revenue tied to maintaining 321 sworn officers?

Steve said...

Does this mean that parking issues (and the other things PSOs did) will no longer be addressed? I'm pretty sure your answer will be that sworn officers will respond to everything based on their priorities, which probably means these low priority items will largely be ignored. Illegally parked cars, minor traffic accidents, and wheel tax evaders don't/can't wait around long.

I don't know what choice you have. It's ironic, though, that these types of services are the ones normal, law-abiding, tax payers utilize the most. Few of us ever need to call to say someone in our household has been murdered, that a household invasion is in progress, or that we are following a bank robber fleeing the scene of the crime. Most of us have had minor traffic accidents (or been affected by them), had people park blocking our driveways, or have spotted wheel tax evaders (unlicensed or out-of-state vehicles) we'd like to see pay their share.
I'm pretty sure that if someone bothered to ask, we'd say keep the police (and PSOs), and dump the Antelope Valley project, the arena, and building new schools while abandoning those with lots of life left in them.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that the Chief is a city official, and as such, is pretty much obligated to support anything that comes out of the Mayor's office, or at worst, not openly oppose it.

Anonymous said...

you talk of turning over duties to the officers getting cut that don't need a sworn officer because it is cheaper, rather than axe these 10 jobs maybe we can eliminate 6 or 7 of the 321 sworn officers that we maintain, that is maybe 1 or 2 people per area in lincoln, much less painful than eliminating an entire division and turning it over to a non-nebraska corporation to run for profit, how can that money they will be making help our future budgets out? and good luck ever trying to get rid of that company, they will be here after we all die

Anonymous said...

The tax structure in Lincoln is out of wack. Public Schools eat at the trough while the city is expected to survive on the crumbs that are left, and yet the city budget is the one that continually gets scrutinized by tax payers. How about LPS fully funding the middle school officers?

Tom Casady said...

6:49-

That's an exaggeration.

Buck (and 9:31 #2) -

We have a three year Federal grant which pays for four police officers added to our force. If we reduce the number of police officers, we lose that grant. So, if we decided to cut seven police officer positions instead of 10 civilian employees, we would lose an additional four police officers from the grant.

Steve-

Our sworn police officers will have to pick up a portion of the workload presently handled by PSOs in the City outside of the downtown area, or it just won't get done. We should be able to handle some of this without any great burden, but there is no doubt about it: we are unlikely to be as effective when five employees who had this kind of work as their primary focus have been lost. We will do our best.

9:31 #1 -

The predicament the City is in financially is a combination of declining revenue and an unusually low property tax levy for City services in comparison to other Nebraska cities--or for that matter, other cities period. As I have said on many occasions, citizens must decide what City services they are willing to pay for. The portion of your property tax dollar that goes for City of Lincoln services is about 14 cents on the dollar. As you indicate, the public school system is by far the greatest percentage of your property tax bill, at around 65%.

Anonymous said...

Chief-There are two sides to every budget. I don't know where the parking ticket revenue goes, but if you eliminate the 3.5 people that generate that revenue, you also need to eliminate the revenue to the city generated by those folks from the budget. The reality is parking just became free on the street, as you don't have enough people with time on their hands to write the tickets. Although I'm sure they'll make an effort, it can't be a priority. Best wishes to those you've had to "downsize".I've had to make those same decisions and I empathize with you.

256

Anonymous said...

I agree with 256, wouldn't this dept would be considered a 'profit' center, vrs a 'cost' center?

Anonymous said...

If parking tickets generate fines, then those fines go to public schools, not city governments, per the state constitution.

Anonymous said...

"we would lose an additional four police officers from the grant".
Chief: This supports the idea "MONEY over PEOPLE"
"Greed over CARE"
What we have here is a one term Mayor. Didd someone say recall?

Tom Casady said...

12:25-

It is equally painful to cut public service officers and police officers. Neither is "better" than the other. If police officers are cut, however, more will have to be cut--since the cut also means that we do not have the revenue from the grant. Ordinarily, this would not be the case. Public service officers' total compensation is less than police officers', so under normal circumstances, it would require fewer police officers to reach a targeted dollar amount for a reduction. The fact that we are receiving the grant, however, changes the situation.

Anonymous said...

so we can't make the smart necessary decisions in staffing and the future of this city's budgets because we are relying on a grant to cover 4 officers? stop relying on outside money and get OUR priorities in check as citizens of lincoln and STOP accepting the money from the feds, anytime someone gives you money at some point they want something back, what are they getting in return for this grant?

Anonymous said...

12:56

If, as you say, the parking ticket fines go to the public schools, then the schools are going to have a budget shortfall in whatever the reduction in fines turns out to be.

As backwards as this seems, the citizens will be paying twice as much to have parking laws enforced by sworn officers, and will probably generate less income for the school budget. So who gets hurt? Actually, it's the school kids who miss the revenue.

My bet is that someone that's smarter than me will form a company, contract to do parking enforcement for the city, take a portion of the proceeds, and hire back the PSO's to do the job. Anyone who wants to get rich listening?

They will have that opportunity when someone notices the revenue lost. Do it for the school kids!!

256

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:25

What would you suggest the mayor/chief cut from the budgets in lieu of the pretty deep cuts already mentioned, and the cuts they made last year? And the year before. Please offer solutions before spouting about a "recall." There's a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

The mayor is looking for volunteers to do the jobs he eliminated, Tom. Which ones are you volunteering for?
And I'll bet the mayor is going to be the first one to volunteer. As long as he got the arena we didn't need. AS we all go broke paying for it and it goes bankrupt because no one will be able to afford to attend the events. The arena is really a university thing, let UNL pay for it. They aren't giving there employees a raise for at least the next two years.

Anonymous said...

Chief,
You told 6:49; "6:49-That's an exaggeration." So I was curious and went on InterLinc to check and 6:49 said the Mayor had 10 assistants, which you dismissed as an exaggeration, but it looks like there are nine?
CARLSON, JON D. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR ,MAYOR'S OFFICE
ENGSTROM, DEBORAH L. EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, MAYOR'S OFFICE
HOKE, FREDRICK A. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR, MAYOR'S OFFICE
HOPPE, RICHARD D. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR, MAYOR'S OFFICE
LANG, DAVID M. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR MAYOR'S OFFICE
MUMGAARD, DAVID M. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR MAYOR'S OFFICE
MOORS, JACK CITY LOBBYIST MAYOR'S OFFICE
OWEN, PATRICIA A. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR MAYOR'S OFFICE
PEARCE, DENISE K. ADMINISTRATIVE ASST TO MAYOR MAYOR'S OFFICE
Seems a little heavy on office staff don't you think!

CaptDad said...

Chief,

I was wondering if there was any word on the fall academy for new recruits. Is that still going to happen or with the budget cuts will it get delayed?