By Mary Spicer
During the first of two scheduled study sessions devoted to the 2014 budget, Meadville City Council weighed requests from its fire and police departments for funding not included in the budget proposal presented to council on Nov. 6. In the end, no decisions were made on amending the preliminary document.
Prepared by City Manager Joe Chriest and Finance Director Tim Groves, the budget proposal presented a balanced budget without requiring an increase in the current 20.42-mill city property tax rate.
However, the proposal did not include items requested by Chief Eric Young, including an additional police officer the department has been requesting since a position was eliminated in 2009 or funding for an investigative tool known as a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer II (CVSA).
The annual cost of hiring a new entry-level police officer would total approximately $75,000 during the first year, an amount representing approximately half a mill of city property taxes. With one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 in a property’s assessed value, adding a position without making any other adjustments in the budget would increase the amount paid by the owner of a residential property with the city’s median assessed value of $25,000 by approximately $12.50, boosting the annual total city property tax bill to $523.
Councilmember Nancy Mangilo-Bittner said it was important for council to consider the true cost of each employee and include what she described as the $1.2 million to $1.4 million it will ultimately cost for each person who retires. “We don’t want to hurt other employees by jeopardizing their retirements,” she said.
Focusing on the benefits in terms of community-police relations that returning his department’s complement to its 2009 level of 22 officers, Young stressed the importance of keeping two officers on the street at all times. For example, he explained, “I don’t want an officer at a domestic (incident) by himself — when a husband and a wife are fighting they can each turn on him at any time.”
“The need for an officer is understandable,” Councilmember LeRoy Stearns said, “but the cost comes from somewhere. We either have to adjust other numbers or raise taxes.”
Stearns stressed that if an officer is added, he wants that officer on the street. “I want that officer to be seen,” he said.
When the discussion turned to the CVSA, Groves told council that while funds hadn’t been set aside to purchase the unit, “we can take it out of our long-term capital reserves.”
Young described the analyzer as a valuable tool that the police department could utilize in criminal investigations — and also in employment.
The unit, Young explained, is a form of the polygraph (lie detector) test widely used by both federal and state law-enforcement agencies. Unlike the polygraph, which requires a costly and extensive training period lasting a full year, CVSA training resulting in the certification of two officers involves a four-day course costing $8,195, including the equipment.
“The machine is only as good as the operator running it,” Young said. “It’s a viable tool. It would be a valuable asset to the police department.”
According to Gary Alizzeo, the city’s attorney, the CVSA, like the polygraph, is not admissible in court. However, he added, “It can lead to the collection of admissible evidence.”
While the $8,195 was not included in the budget, “If you’re really interested, I can find it,” Groves said. “If council is interested, tell me to put it into the budget. I’ll try to find out how to do it.”
At approximately 11 percent of the cost of adding an additional officer, a CVSA, including the cost of equipment and training two officers as operators, would cost the owner of that statistically-average Meadville residential property approximately an additional $1.38 in 2014.
Young also requested $2,000 to purchase two more Tasers, one for the department’s school safety officer and one for its K-9 officer. “These two officers in many cases are alone and this would be a vital tool to assist in the performance of their duties,” he said.
The department also needs a new Taser instructor and a defensive training instructor to take over the duties Young, now a few months into his tenure as chief, has handled for many years, he said.
The police department discussion was followed by a similar question-and-answer session with Meadville Central Fire Department Chief Larndo (Tunie) Hedrick and a discussion of the city’s parking fund.
Discussion of funding requested by other departments will continue during a second council study session on the 2014 budget scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, following the second public hearing on the budget beginning at 5:45 p.m. and council’s regularly-scheduled meeting beginning at 6 p.m. All sessions are in the Meadville City Building on Diamond Park and are open to the public.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.