Petersburg’s borough assembly voted against filling two vacant public safety jobs last night. The positions in the police and fire department are in the budget for the borough this year. But concerns linger over future state funding cuts and their impact on the municipality’s ability to pay for these positions.
Department heads sought assembly approval to fill the vacant jobs. One is a second sergeant’s position in the police department, responsible for police patrols and overseeing officers among other duties.
Assembly member Bob Lynn said he was still concerned about the borough’s funding.
“Because we still don’t know where we’re at,” Lynn explained. “So I guess at this point I’m not in favor of filling that position. I’m willing to hold, see what happens, but I’m not in favor of filling it. So I’d have to vote no on this.”
Lynn was also concerned about increasing health care and liability insurance costs to the borough and reductions in other borough revenue sources.
Mayor Mark Jensen agreed with Lynn and cited line item vetoes and budget proposals from Governor Dunleavy this year.
“I know it’s in the (borough) budget but I didn’t vote for it in the third reading of the budget as well because of concern of what the governor’s going to keep doing,” Jensen said. “You know we already raised mill rates and people are complaining about that, rightfully so in my opinion. I thought there might have been other avenues we could have pursued before we did that but we did what we did, as an assembly. And the governor’s already said he’s going to take the second half of the school bond indebtedness away and possibly revenue sharing and I just think if he can get his hands on the raw fish tax then that’s going to be a big target for him.”
The decision not to fill that job could have the borough talking about whether it will be considering something other than 24/7 coverage.
Assembly member Jeff Meucci wanted to fill the position, to help bring down overtime spending for the other eight officers working to keep that round the clock service.
“Whether or not we fill this position tonight or not we are still spending the money in the police department, to staff it,” Meucci said. “My thought process was that if we hired the sergeant’s position, that overtime fund would certainly be diminished, if not go away, I’m sure it would never go all away but just health care and all the other issues are important but that overtime issue is a big one for me. That’s killing us.”
The police sergeant’s job was estimated to cost the borough around 127,000 dollars in salary and benefits. Police chief Jim Kerr told the assembly that overtime in the department last year was 138,000 dollars in overtime last year, over budget by 60,000 dollars.
Meucci was the only vote in favor of hiring a second police sergeant and it failed 1-3. Assembly members Kurt Wohlhueter, Jeigh Stanton Gregor and Taylor Norheim were not at the meeting. It was the same vote against filling an emergency medical services coordinator and fire fighter job in the fire department.
That move would have bolstered the full time paid staff in that department from two to three. Volunteer fire fighters and staff have tried to convince the assembly to make that hire to ease the work load on the other two paid staff, help with ambulance calls and training for volunteers making those ambulance calls.
Meucci also tried to make the case for that hire as well saying that this will slow ambulance response rates in the community as on-call volunteers are stretched thin.
“If people don’t think this is a big deal, you will come this winter or some late night when something’s going hay wire out at your house or there’s a car accident, you don’t have enough people, then people are going to get really upset why we don’t have enough people to help this department,” he said. “I think this EMS coordinator/fire fighter would go a good long way to help out the fire EMS department. We need some help up there.”
Again Meucci was the only yes vote and it failed 1-3. That job was estimated to cost the borough around 94,000 dollars in salary and benefits.