Thursday, November 19, 2015

Council looks at rising police costs


On Tuesday night, Columbia Borough Council looked at the high cost of maintaining the borough's police force, which is currently 112% of the annual property tax revenue - and 46% of the total projected 2016 budget of $5.9 million. According to Councillor Kelly Murphy, chair of the committee on finance, the police budget for other similar municipalities is about 70-80% of property taxes. As a point of comparison, Murphy noted that the borough would need to raise taxes to 10 mills to keep the police costs at 80% of revenue. He added that if costs could be reined in, taxes could be reduced from the current 8 mills to 6 mills. Council noted that costs are out of line not only with other industries but with other police departments. Salaries and benefits for one officer can run to about $110,000 per year.

Currently, the projected numbers (positions and salaries) for 2016 are as follows:

Chief: $88,000
Sergeants (4): $322,000
Patrolmen (12): $893,000
Part-time officers (3): $20,000.
(Salaries are rounded off here.)

Costs of benefits including health care, pension, etc., as well as vehicles and other equipment, bring the total to almost $2.8 million. Overtime was budgeted at $100,000 for this year, but with the year-to-date figure at $112,000, that limit has been exceeded.

Councillor Mary Barninger noted that previous councils were overly generous to the police department. "Previous councils had given away the store without arbitration, because they didn't know how to negotiate a contract," she said. Such giveaways contribute to ongoing costs and, once in place, are difficult to rescind. "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," Barninger said.

Arbitration is a periodic mediation between the Police Association and Columbia Borough and can be one cause of increasing costs. Police in Pennsylvania are not allowed to strike but instead go to arbitration to negotiate compensation. Arbitration does not usually go in favor of the municipality. An arbitrator's decision is final unless the parties can reach an independent agreement outside the ruling. Arbitration negotiations are not open to the public.

Another concern is underfunded pensions. In the most recent arbitration last summer, an arbitrator reduced employee contributions to the pension fund from 5% to 3%."That was never negotiated, it was never talked about. No one complained about it on either side," Barninger said. "It was just an arbitrary decision that the arbitrator made. In doing that, they actually damaged the value of the pension plan. The pension plan is now underfunded." The contribution rate is expected to be raised to 4% in 2016, and back to 5% in 2017. Taxpayers will make up any difference.

Councillor Jim Smith proposed changing to "zero-based budgeting," in which every expense would need to be justified every year, as one way of combating budget bloat.

Councillor Barry Ford suggested consolidating local police departments in order to contain costs. "We did it with the sewer plant.  We did with the fire department," he said. "We really need to get serious about regionalization. Share the cost." Ford also suggested contacting other departments as a first step in the process. "Let's be proactive instead of reactive." Ford cited politics as a sticking point in moving forward. "Our biggest holdup right now in Columbia is politics." Councillors also discussed inviting District Attorney Craig Stedman to offer help with the consolidation process.

Councillor Barninger was not quick to accept those options, however. "I do not feel comfortable going to the district attorney or any of the other municipalities without the support or the willingness of our own police department to participate in that process," she said.

31 comments:

  1. What a bunch of BULL!!!

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  2. So the cost of the police is greater than what we take in?

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    1. Yes, the police department is funded by property tax revenue. Revenue is about $2.6 million, and the cost of the police department is about $2.8 million.

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  3. What did Mayor Lutz have to say about this?

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  4. Remember the mayor wants another cop at the school!!

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    1. Right, I remember hearing about a Resource Officer. Was this figured into the 2016 budget? Does this involve grant money? If it does, then it's like Councilman Ford explained, after the grant money is gone, the borough is left to totally pay for the position.

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    2. No requirement in PA that Enforcement Officer be employed by Columbia Borough police. Let school district use the grant to pay for this themselves.

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  5. So basically, this will not end because some on council aren't "comfortable" turning to anyone for guidance unless our police force gives their blessing!!! Why would the police willingly participate in a process that will not work in their favor?

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  6. Having a fulltime police force that consists of one Seargant at $80,000 per year, to manage three patrolman at $73,000 per year. This town should be at a 10%- 20% crime rate and miniumal drug transactions with this all-star cast of professionals.
    Let us take a look at saleries of major cities in the Northeast.

    Philadelphia,PA
    This is from www.phillypolice.com website.

    The current yearly salary for a Police Officer Recruit in the Police Academy is $47,920 After graduating the academy as a Police Officer, you receive a pay increase to $51,245. There are scheduled increases in pay to the present maximum of $64,459 a year. Overtime is paid at the level of time and a half. There are excellent opportunities for promotion, which will result in a corresponding raise in salaries. Police Officers are paid biweekly. Salary does not include your annual uniform allowance or holiday time.

    New York, NY
    Pay increases for NYPD officers are small during the early years on the job but increase significantly over time. After two-and-a-half years on the job, a police officer receives a base salary of $48,779 and a total compensation package of $53,819. Base salaries increase on an annual basis by $3,000 to $5,000 over the next few years. Halfway through a cop's sixth year on the job, his base salary jumps from $56,609 to $76,488 per year. The total compensation package of a cop with five-and-a-half years experience amounts to $90,829.

    Baltimore, Maryland
    http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov
    Salary and Benefits
    Baltimore County offers a competitive salary and benefits package.
    Starting salaries:
    Police Cadet $25,024
    Police Officer $48,100
    Diversity within the Baltimore County Police Department
    Police Officer First Class: $58,114 (five years), $73,865 (11 years), $83,641 (17 years), $94,893 (24 years)

    Cadets and Officers receive yearly pay increases.

    So how did this get out of control? Was it the buddy system that was ignored and not spoken about among the Council members for decades? A merger is similar to what the school district will endure in the future. Who wants the politics and tax increase in their township.

    Problems can only be resolved by the citizens with passion and no agenda but interest of this great town of Columbia. What ever happened to the public forums with the Council and Mayor in attendance in a neutral setting. This needs to happen quickly to resolve citizen concerns.

    Thank you!
    Columbia Pride

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    1. council & the mayor don't like the police force, probably why they are pushing for a merger

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    2. I get the feeling that the mayor loves the force and he is quick to go to bat for them.

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  7. What about the millions in the bank from the sale of the sewer plant? If invested right the interest could off set the costs.

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    1. probably being spent on unnecessary stuff

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  8. There are some retired cops that we should not be funding pensions for.

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  9. if you do not want to pay for the police force, the next time you need help CALL A CRACKHEAD!!!!!!!! did you forget the recent newspaper article where it stated that columbia borough is the busiest police department in Lancaster county?

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    1. Read the report (https://www.lcwc911.us/lcwc/Portals/0/AnnualReports/Year2014/2014-PoliceStats.pdf)
      not some recollective generalization about a recent newspaper article.

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  10. The millions in the bank, are really not there, or at least not for long, as the Secretary/Treasure in the Boro at this time, has so many credit cards that need paid, they may run out of money in the bank. Also, when you retire, I hope where ever you are employed, does not do away with your pension or soc. sec. stops, for you or yours. Why would you not continue to give to retired persons pensions? If someone spends 20 years in a job, shouldn't that person get paid for being there? Some people do not think ahead of their own income.

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    1. Not all retired persons, just the few that participated in criminal activity in the past, while serving the community. Common knowledge.

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  11. Maybe council should think about getting rid of a lot of the "fluff," such as all the useless manager(s). That should save quite a lot of money.

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  12. if you want the borough to run better, get rid of the present council & mayor & start fresh. There should be term limits, IT IS TIME FOR THEM ALL TO GO!!!!!!!!

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    1. Did you bother to run for council this election? There were 4 seats up for election. Put up or shut up.

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  13. Why should the LASA money have to be used to sustain outlandish benefits. I worked at a job that had excellent benefits when I began, but as years went by, slowly the benefits were chiseled away. The pay stayed the course, but not the benefits. This has to end now.

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  14. First place to start is getting rid of the police dispatchers. Not sure how much they earn but they are not needed when county can and does the job majority of the time anyway. Why are our tax dollars being wasted for duplicate service? Don't think there's another police station in lancaster county with dispatchers except good old columbia. And it's time the police dept is merged and the school district both are not sustainable any longer but then you have to find someone that wants us. Good luck with that.

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    1. The dispatcher thing is part of the "hold on to" the old Columbia way of operating. Just like those that fought LASA, fire department consolidation, and continue opposing state restaurant inspections, as well as resistance to the idea of any school consolidation. How can Columbia continue moving forward when people in power insist on holding tightly to outdated systems.

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  15. Rid Columbia of the section 8 trash and all it brings and you will not be the busiest police force in the county. I like Barrys idea!

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  16. The council can talk about merging all they want but the money it will save will be no where near what is needed to bail the town of the finical hole it is in. While I agree it makes good business sense to investigate this, the first thing that needs done is for serious, very serious, budget control. The council needs to step up and make cuts where it they can be made, even if it would decrease some services, and most of all, someone needs to be giving a hard look at every purchase made and expenditure with no regard to personal agendas. This needs to be someone with a strong background in financial matters, perhaps someone like our new borough manager. I say give him the reins for six months without individual input from the mayor or council members and see what happens! I would be willing to wager if you gave the new manager the current budget proposal and let him make cuts where he thought necessary, again, without any input from council or the mayor, he could trim some fat off the budget.

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    1. Anyone could in a dictatorship. But we live in a democracy.

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  17. Once again there is no magic to make the numbers work. There are too few taxpayers to pay for a police force & a school district. The school board & the council have to come together & proposition the state for consolidation. Otherwise Columbia will be a mini Detroit.

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  18. We sold the sewer plant, now lets sell the POLICE FORCE!!!!!!!!!

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