Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg City Council wants more cops and raises for workers

ST. PETERSBURG — Two of the City Council's biggest priorities for next year's budget include hiring more cops and giving pay raises to city workers.

The suggestions came Thursday during the first budget meeting for fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct 1. Staffers solicited ideas from the council in advance of a budget summit slated for April 24.

Currently, the Police Department has 545 officers. With benefits and salaries, the city spends about $100,000 a year for each patrol officer.

"I think we need to have a discussion on the record to see if 545 officers is enough," council member Charlie Gerdes said.

Council member Bill Dudley agreed, saying: "Public safety is the linchpin to everything else."

The idea for more officers, Gerdes said, came after police Chief Chuck Harmon recently briefed the council on downtown security.

Downtown's bustling nightlife, coupled with the 3 a.m. bar closings, result in 300 hours of overtime each month, Harmon said.

Council chair Karl Nurse said he wants Harmon to tell the council what his priorities would be if an extra $500,000 to $1 million was added to his agency's $91 million budget. Harmon doesn't yet have an answer.

In the coming months, he and top aides plans to analyze how the department deploys officers, including studying whether to add a fourth policing district to cover downtown.

Another option, Harmon said, is to shift some detectives back to patrol cars since crime rates have dropped. "We're going to look at everything," he said.

The chief scheduled the deployment analysis before the council made the suggestions Thursday.

Harmon said it will take several months to determine the best ways to redeploy personnel. His biggest goal is to decrease overtime.

"I'd always love to have more" officers, Harmon said. "But it wouldn't cure all our ills."

More money would cure ills for many city employees.

Most workers haven't received raises in four years since the financial crisis decimated the city's budget. Council members fear the best workers will leave if the pay drought continues.

"It's very unlikely that I'd vote for a budget that doesn't include raises for employees," council member Steve Kornell said.

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