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Village maintains police staff despite less tax revenue

December 16, 2009 - Despite the fact that property tax revenues are expected to continue decreasing, the Oxford Village Council is going to keep four full-time police officers on the payroll and on the streets at least through the end of the current fiscal year.

Council last week voted 4-1 to fill a full-time officer position vacant since September due to a resignation.

"This council, as far as I can remember, has always put police really high up on their list of priorities," said Councilman Dave Bailey. "Oxford is known for having a top-of-the-line police force and I want that to continue."

The starting cost for a first-year, full-time village cop is approximately $61,100 annually between pay and benefits.

This fourth full-time position, which was originally established in March 2005, was already budgeted for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which ends June 30 next year.

Police Chief Mike Neymanowski favored filling the position for morale reasons. He explained that a full-time job is "considered a promotion" by the part-timers.

"A full-time position in my agency is kind of an incentive," he said. "That's how we fill the full-time positions, from our part-timers. Certainly, if that was taken away, it's going to have kind of a negative impact on this agency."

However, village Manager Joe Young noted such a position must be advertised and all applications accepted and considered in order to be an equal opportunity employer.

"It is not a guaranteed right that a part-time officer gets promoted to full-time," he said.

In light of the tough economic times and declining tax revenues (see shaded box), Young had recommended eliminating the full-time position from the budget and using existing part-time officers to make up for it as they have been for more than three months.

Such a decision would have resulted in a $41,000 savings in salary and fringe benefits to the municipality, assuming medical insurance covering two or more people, according to Young's calculations.

"With a single person, (medical insurance) would go down significantly," he said.

Neymanowski said his figures put the estimated savings around $30,000.

But Young said the chief's figures probably aren't taking leave time into account.

"With the full-time person, you've got to cover their leave time sick, vacation and personal leave," the manager said. "With the part-timer, you don't have to cover that, so that's an added cost."

Using part-timers, as Young proposed, could raise some issues with regard to the police union contract, which states, "Part-time employees may be used for any assignment, emergency or event so long as the use of part-time employees does not cause the layoff of members of the bargaining unit."

Village attorney Bob Bunting is in the process of drafting an opinion as to what exactly the municipality can and cannot do with police staffing based on this contract clause.

But the idea of continuing to use part-timers to make up for a full-time position did not sit well with some council members.

"I think we have a full-time position and it's unfair to ask part-timers to fill that position," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "They work a lot of hours. They do a great job. They do just as good a job as the full-time officers do and I think we need to fill the position. It's in the budget."

Helmuth noted the village has part-time officers who are working 39 hours a week right now.

"They're one hour short of being full-time," she said. "They're not getting medical benefits. They're not getting uniform allowance. They're not getting the benefits."

Neymanowski noted part-time officers who work extra hours do so because "they want it."

"It's not a negative," he explained. "They always ask me, 'Hey chief, can I have more hours?' I'm fortunate that I do have officers that are dedicated like that."

Some council members were uncomfortable with filling the full-time position now because even though the village has the money to fund it through June 30, they're not sure what's going to happen when the 2010-11 fiscal year begins July 1.

Council President Teri Stiles indicated her "biggest fear" is the possibility of having to lay off a police officer if the money's not there next year. "I would hate to, in six months, say somebody's got to go," she said.

Stiles doesn't like the idea of possibly losing another village employee. "We've already seen enough of that," she said.

Since September 2008, the village has laid off two employees.

Stiles was in favor of delaying the decision until council starts looking at its 2010-11 budgets over the next couple months.

"I would feel safer if we just maybe postponed it, she said.

In the end, council decided to fill the position because the money's there right now.

"Your people do a terrific job," said Councilman Tom Benner, while addressing Neymanowski. "I don't want to see any officer be disheartened because of the fact he might miss the chance to have a full-time position."

But Benner wanted everyone to understand that if it ever came to that, "it's not that we do not want another full-time officer; it's because of the budget."

Neymanowski said he understands what a difficult job council has because as chief he wants to represent his officers as much as he can, but he's also in charge of a budget and there's only so much money out there.

"Yes, I'd like to have this full-time position, but again . . . are we going to have enough money for it when the fiscal year comes up," he said. "I've talked to other chiefs and they're (performing) the painful task of doing some things I don't want to do."

Stiles cast the lone dissenting vote. "My vote is only because I don't want to see you have to lay somebody off in six months," she explained. "I hope it doesn't come to that."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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