SRO program to remain

2015-02-10 | Clinton Herald

Feb. 10--CLINTON -- After months of debating over staffing levels, the Clinton City Council left the police department budget as is on Monday through a unanimous vote. While the action doesn't preclude the council from tooling with personnel later, for now it seems that the school resource officer program (among other police divisions) will be left in tact.

The debate continued to dominate discussion as council members picked the brains of police Capts. Tom Bohle and Bill Greenwalt. But City Administrator Jessica Kinser, citing ratified agreement obligations between the city and Clinton Community School District, said Fiscal Year 2016 was not the time to retool SROs, as program costs will continue into the budget year, regardless. The joint agreement expires in July 2016.

"It will be a Fiscal Year '17 discussion on how SROs impact the budget," Kinser said. "There's not an impact that can be seen during the Fiscal Year 2016 program."

SRO discussions first arose after councilmen Tom Determann and Ed O'Neill issued a letter to the council in November stating they would like to return the officers to full-time regular patrol. Councilman John Rowland also vocalized his opinion several times that the city was "subsidizing" CCSD by paying half of the SRO wages for less than half of their time.

Each councilman still had concerns during Monday's budget workshop that maintaining the program was what's best for city finances. Referencing testimony from an October police arbitration hearing, during which officers stated their department was understaffed, the councilmen said Clinton needs to find a way to grow the force.

Yet, all three voted in favor of city Finance Director Anita Dalton's police budget proposal, which adheres to the current agreement. Dalton said at the start it was important city leaders be judicial on matters of public safety.

"This (budget) is the one I have the most trepidation about, because I feel like it's the one that is most scrutinized," said Dalton, adding the statement was her opinion. Since safe communities attract outsiders looking to live near the Gateway area, she said, "Public safety is something that should be at the forefront of everyone's mind."

By maintaining the budget proposal, Clinton Mayor Mark Vulich said the city cannot increase budgeted wages after the budget is finalized in March. It means the budgeted amount of 40 full-time officers (including the three SROs) would not increase. Thus, Clinton's budget could not absorb 1 1/2 full-time wages if council members want to undo their agreement this year.

It was difficult for the council to get a clear picture of true police staffing needs during the meeting. This shed light on the long-awaited police staffing study. Council members wanted the results in November, but Kinser said it would be ready in January and, on Monday, Bohle and Greenwalt said it's coming to the Feb. 24 council agenda.

Without knowing specifics of the study, even vocal proponents of an SRO retool were hesitant to make the shift.

"Right now I'm at a real impasse," said O'Neill, adding he has "no idea" what to do about SROs.

The study, Kinser said, is an opportunity for the council to learn more about SROs, school district needs and staffing needs for police. That was something supporters of the agreement favored.

As for the budget, with the deadline fast approaching, councilman Grant Wilke said now wasn't the time to make a drastic shift in police operations. He argued, throughout Monday, that the value of an SRO's work, versus his budget, has muddied the budget discussions.

"I think we're putting a cog in this wheel, holding something up that might not have any impact on the budget," Wilke said.

Assistant Editor Brenden West can be contacted at brendenwest@clintonherald.com.