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June 16, 2014

Jeffersonville council agrees to hire three police officers

Discussion of adding 25 in five years to continue

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Jeffersonville City Council on Monday unanimously approved hiring three new police officers after much debate and public comment regarding a proposal to add 25 officers in the next five years.

The action came with a catch: The city will hold off on the hiring process of the three officers until it applies for and gets word back from a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant that could pay for up to $125,000 in salaries for three officers, which could take several months.

However, three officers will join the force whether Jeffersonville receives the grant; waiting ensures that chances of receiving the grant won’t be jeopardized.

The vote came after police Chief Chris Grimm asked the council to consider hiring five officers every year for the next five years, presenting a payment plan with his request. The council will also have a workshop to spend more time looking at the city’s financial books.

“I’m not going to stand up here and beat my chest for a plan that isn’t feasible,” Grimm said.

He said that Jeffersonville’s $5 million surplus, which becomes $2 million after budgeted items are accounted for, will be enough to cover salaries, training and equipment.

His plan would increase the general fund budget by about $2 million and the local option income tax [LOIT] budget by about $170,00 by 2018. The 25 officers’ salaries and benefits would come from the general fund while new equipment for those officers would come out of LOIT, which is the public safety fund.

Grimm said he checked with City Controller Amy Deering to make sure he was doing the math correctly.

“They’re all accurate,” Deering said of the numbers. “I feel like it’s very fundable.”

Council President Dennis Julius said that he is in favor of hiring new officers but doesn’t think the city can afford Grimm’s plan.

“My problem with your scenario is I don’t know how we can be fiscally responsible and assume we will get more money in every year when we don’t every year and tap that fund dry,” Julius said.

Councilman Nathan Samuel said that using reserve funds that will eventually run out is not sustainable, forcing the city to either lay off officers or tax residents.

Councilwoman Lisa Gill also said she wants to make sure the numbers are right before enacting Grimm’s plan because the council is making decisions that affect peoples’ careers.

“I want that [money] sustained,” she said.

“When we’re done pulling it out of our savings, that’s when the rubber hits the road,” Samuel said.

Grimm said that his current force of 75 officers is not enough to cover the population growth from both annexation and job growth in recent years. The ordinance approving the annexation of 7,800 to Jeffersonville signed in 2007 stipulates that there must be two police officers for every 1,000 residents. At its current numbers, the city has about 1.6 officers per thousand.

He also said the force is not enough to provide the city with proactive safety because many are spending too much time responding to calls of service.

“To me, that’s probably one of the most important things,” Grimm said.

Adding 25 officers would allow the department to create special units designated to proactive duties, such as a flex unit and a traffic unit, that would help stop crime before it happens, according to Grimm.

Councilman Bryan Glover said that he supports Grimm’s plan because the residents living in the annexed area were promised more officers.

“This council was elected to make tough decisions,” Glover said. “It’s time to make a tough decision.”

Grimm said spending money on police officers is one of the best ways for Jeffersonville to make use of tax dollars.

“I think the citizens deserve it,” he said.

Councilman Matt Owen said that the council doesn’t have to approve five year’s worth of officers at one time — all it has to consider is the next year.

Many residents voiced their support or concerns before the council.

Terri Hicks, homeowners association president for Crystal Springs who lives in the annexation, said that she understands the council’s hesitance in approving big funds but thinks an understaffed force can lead to serious crime issues.

“I do think that we have to add more police protection to our city in order for us to be safe,” she said.

Ron Smith, who also came forward with public comment, said he is wary of the city spending too much money.

“Don’t assume nothing that you’re going to have this money,” he said.

 

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