Should council approve the award, the police department would hire a new officer for the fourth time since 1995, when the department received the first of three COPS grants, said Ravenna Police Chief Michael Swartout at Monday's meeting of City Council's finance committee. Issued by the United States Department of Justice, the grants provide supplemental funds to hire officers for three years.
Councilman Dick Leonard voiced the concern that, by accepting the award, the city is obliged to issue a "good faith" effort to retain the officer after the three year period.
"No one would dispute the value of having another officer on the police force, but we must bear in mind that, if we follow our "good faith" responsibility, we will need more than $50,000 annually after three years to pay his salary," he said. "We have to weigh enhanced security on one hand with increased expenditures on the other."
It would cost $161,498 to hire an additional officer for three years, Swartout said. Of that sum, the city would pay roughly $86,500; the remainder would be covered by the COPS grant and, in all likelihood, a small grant from the state, which has historically issued 10 percent of the federal allowance.
"This window of opportunity may close before too long and I think we should take advantage of it," said Swartout. "Our department has made significant strides as a result of these grants and we could continue to do so."
The department's goal is to become "community police," he said a force whose numbers allow it gain a more intimate, constructive relationship with city residents.
"We want to be able to foresee, and try to solve typical neighborhood troubles before they develop," he said. "We want to be proactive."
The department has defined several cost-saving measures it hopes would help finance the addition, Swartout said. By devising a more flexible approach to scheduling, for example, the department has saved roughly $5,600 in overtime pay since June, Swartout said.
"If we could continue this kind of monthly savings, we could save $30,000 to $40,000 annually," he said.
In addition, the police department will not hire anyone to fill the recently vacated part-time posts of meter repair person and meter reader person. Rather, these responsibilities will be fulfilled by existing officers, Swartout said. As well, the department may ask the school district to help with the cost of employing the city's 14 crossing guards, Swartout said.
At least three officers may opt to retire in the next three to five years, departures that would free funds to retain those officers presently supported by the COPS grants, Swartout said. Pending council's approval, the money would be available in 30 to 60 days.