Pinpoint Needs, Identify Funding
It was not clear whether the all the personnel needs are due to retirements. Police Director Martin Hellwig said the Police Division will have a large number of retirements and of three recent recruits, two washed out of the police academy. He said there is difficulty in replacing the retiring officers, but also mentioned a 20-officer gap from when there were 168 officers.
Retirement schedules for police and fire are usually well-known ahead of time. If that is the main problem, aggressive recruitment is needed. If the force must be expanded, funding must be identified. Some will come from the difference between the loss of officers at top salary levels and hiring entry-level recruits. It wouldn't hurt to look into why people don't want to join. Are entry-level salaries too low? Are other municipalities just too preferable?
As for vehicles, here too it would seem that barring accidents, the longevity of a given patrol car should be known and the overall condition of the fleet should be documented in order to plan ahead for replacement of patrol cars. Ideally, the time to pitch for new vehicles would be at a capital improvement budget meeting in advance of the need. Or are these requests already in the pipeline? It was a bit chilling to hear of these needs at a meeting meant to develop policy. When the cupboard is bare at home, do families have a policy meeting or do they look to their budgets?
As for the Tepper's basement, nearly half a million dollars was quickly expended in 2007 to make what Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs described as a "shell" for an undetermined use. The exact use is still nebulous, but a layout for the space is being prepared. And where will the funding come from to fill it up? Have the cameras been purchased? Are leases for the Narcotics Bureau and Community Policing Unit up in their other locations? Does the city owe condo fees since acquiring the space, and if so, how much?
Council President Rashid Burney revived the 2006 "working meeting" concept, with the public safety session being the first of four on a single topic. Burney has also called for early budget meetings throughout March and April, where presumably some of the questions above will be addressed.
Meanwhile, there is still no director of Administration & Finance to replace Douglas Peck, who left in December. Hellwig's one-year acting appointment as police director expires March 20. City Administrator Marc Dashield has been stuck with wrapping up the city budget for the second time in two years. This is Year 4 of the mayor's four-year term. It's a little worrying to have so much up in the air. The 2010 budget for the year that begins July 1 may not kick in until sometime in 2011, if this year and past ones are any example.
The City Council needs a lot more information than what was tossed out at the special meeting this week. Because municipal government serves the citizens, public safety needs must be addressed in a pro-active way, with as much analysis and planning ahead as possible. Perhaps the early budget meetings will help. They are all at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave., and the proposed dates are March 10, 17, 24, 31 and April 7 and 14.