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The Richmond City Council has been rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of addressing budget constraints. Last night, the Public Safety Committee began getting to work.
Committee members Bob Bond, Jim Dunwoodie and Terrie Stanley met with Police Chief Terri McWilliams to go line-by-line over the city’s police and dispatch budgets that account for more than $1 million in expenditures.
At the center of the discussion were salaries for police officers and dispatch personnel.
McWilliams said new officers start out at $28,500 and move up to $30,000 after a one year probationary period.
McWilliams said a police salary review board looked at salaries last year and reported that Richmond needed to raise pay in order to compete with other cities for officers.
McWilliams said there are several factors that went into the report, including that officers have not been given raises in two years.
Stanley said a comparison to other cities does not tell the whole story. She said other financial factors need to be considered.
“There are some cities, like Kearney – they’re not anywhere near the problem that we’re in. Liberty – they’re not in the problem we’re in. Oak Grove – they’re not in the financial difficulty we’re in,” Stanley said. “This is hard to compare this to the problem we’re in.”
Chairman Bob Bond said he understands the city needs to hire competent people to do the job. He also said that he works for the county and has not had a raise going on two years. He said the city may have to give no raises or moderate raises if the budget allows.
“I know the money is not coming in, so I’m not asking for a raise,” Bond said. “We cannot spend more than we can take in. The federal government can, but we can’t. We need to look at the future budget. Everyone will have to give and take.”
Consolidation was also discussed, particularly with the separate 911 dispatch centers. The city has scheduled a meeting with the 911 Board at their meeting next month. There has also been recent discussion about the city housing prisoners at the Ray County Jail as opposed to Lafayette County.
McWilliams said typically in the past that would be an issue that her and Sheriff Sam Clemens would discuss. Bond asked McWilliams who should extend the invitation to meet, but she declined to comment.
Dunwoodie said he thinks the city council should also be at the table.
“I think the city council needs to be involved in it. The city is the one that has to pay the bill,” he said.
McWilliams told the committee that she felt like she was being “micromanaged.”
Dunwoodie also had concerns with grants. Currently, McWilliams is working on a grant that would pay the salary and benefits of three officers for three years.
Dunwoodie pointed out that the city is committed to paying those officers’ salaries for an additional year after the federal government quits paying the tab.
McWilliams said the city is going to have to hire additional officers anyway because they are down to 10 officers now.
“We can’t do this with 10 officers,” McWilliams said. “The city has paid for 13 officers for as long as I can remember. For three years you would be relieved of that.”
McWilliams said she also took new police cars out of the budget. She said the department has eight working vehicles at the moment but are aging.
Stanley said that benefits included with salaries are also income. She said salary increases and benefits are not translating to tax payers.
“If you have all that, it’s becoming a privilege to become a city employee in this day and age. I think we need to look into this because this is a privilege,” Stanley said. “I’m not saying they don’t go out and earn their money. I would never say that. I think it’s a really nice thing to work for the city.”
This and future council and committee meetings will be posted on The Daily News Web site, www.richmond-dailynews.com.