Police staffing divides council
Line by line, dollar by dollar, four members of Coaldale council who want to bring back the borough's full-time police officers pulled monies away from estimated expenses in the borough's 2014 budget.
At the special budget meeting Monday, members were able to set aside enough money to cover health and life insurance for three full-time officers, and also increase the monies designated for police officers' salaries from $199,000 to $210,000.
Council members stopped short of stating they would definitely restore the full-time officers, and said that issue would be addressed in a future meeting.
As they worked their way through the budget cuts and rearrangements, council members and citizens voiced their opinions, sometimes as loudly as they could, on the pros and cons of those actions. At one point, council Chairwoman Angela Krapf pounded the gavel repeatedly, as citizens shouted at each other.
"When I hit the gavel it needs to stop!" Krapf said. "I am in control of what happens in this room."
During reorganization, the board had voted to reopen the $1.7 budget, and had also met last week to review it. The borough furloughed its three full-time officers in 2011, keeping only the police chief as a full-time position and using part-time officers.
Monday, council members painstakingly cut the budget until about $50,000 had been squeezed free from the original estimates. Council member Thomas Keerans cautioned the board against counting that sum as "available" and advised against making the cuts.
"We're nitpicking a hundred here, and thousand there, and even if you get $50,000 out of a $1.7 million dollar budget, it's potatoes," Keerans said, describing a budget as a blueprint for spending. "If you have a couple extra bucks, you have to give a little wiggle room in the budget, and then you're not cutting it down to the wire."
Krapf, who chairs the board, disagreed.
"I don't look at it as nitpicking, I look at it as money going to the right place," Krapf said. "I look at it as having $50,000 toward getting back what people want for this town."
Keerans pushed together the stacks of paper on the desk in front of him, and stood up.
"Knock your socks off," he said to Krapf, and left the meeting.
Keeping overall 2014 expenditures the same, council began to redistribute the $50,000. They estimated that about $33,000 would be needed to cover the cost of health benefits and life insurance ($10,000 each) if they re-established three full-time police officer positions. They put $8,000 into unemployment compensation, a line item that had been at zero, with no monies budgeted to cover it.
That left $9,000, which was applied to cover lawsuits/arbitration, another line item that had been at zero, with no monies budgeted to cover costs. In 2013, Coaldale spent $8,389 in unemployment compensation and $7,507 in lawsuits/arbitration.
Police salaries, which is the hourly rate and does not include health insurance and life insurance, was budgeted for 2014 as $199,500. According to calculations council members did Monday night, with the help of secretary/treasurer Andrea Davis, the cost of paying the salaries of a chief and three full-time officers would be $183,000, with overtime costs estimated at $5,000 per officer.
In 2013, police salaries were $197,399; in 2012, the police salaries were $201,474. In 2011, which is the year the full-time officers were furloughed, the police salaries were $282,306.
On a motion by council member Linda Miller, seconded by Brenda Hosler, the figure for police salaries was raised to $210,000. Miller, Hosler, Krapf and Harry Hontz voted in favor of the budget changes.
Council member Mike Doerr had also left the meeting shortly before council members voted. Councilman Steve Tentylo was not present.
"The bottom line is, we can't afford to bring them back," Doerr said shortly before leaving. "There's no revenue. It's a rough time for everybody here."
At least one citizen agreed. Lenny Stokes said that Coaldale's current population is about 2,300, with about 70 percent elderly people, on a fixed income.
"I remember when we had about 5,000 people, with bars and churches, banks and stores," Lenny Stokes said. "We don't have any of that now, we have empty houses."