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Proposed State College Budget Cuts Two Police Officers to Offset Rising Costs

by on November 25, 2014 4:00 PM

Because of the rising cost of employee benefits and pensions, the State College Police Department will be forced to shrink by three full-time positions in 2015.

Police Chief Tom King told the State College Borough Council that two open officer positions are not funded in the proposed 2015 budget. That leaves the department with 63 sworn officers.

The police department – which makes up 40 percent of the borough’s general fund – is also continuing a multi-year trend of cutting a support staff position. For the second year in a row, King says the department will not fill an open records technician position. 

“This creates some administrative issues that we can handle, but the staff will begin to feel the impact,” King said. “This is a tough budget that calls for tough decisions, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we can’t afford to keep cutting staff at this rate.”

King also told council he had some concerns about how the loss of two police officers will impact response times.

The average response time for urgent calls is about 5 minutes, which King says is impressive when compared to the national average, “but could still be better.” With two fewer officers, King said the response time to non-urgent calls may be slightly longer than before.

He also noted that each individual officer responds to an average of 750 calls per year. With the loss of two officers, King says about 1,500 calls will need to be divided among the remaining 63 officers.

The 2015 budget plans for an increase of less than one percent for the police department’s expenses, with a total of over $10 million. Though expenses have stayed roughly the same, police revenues have decreased slightly as fewer citations are issued and fewer fines are collected. King says that's partly because the department encourages community service and other alternative punishments for first-time offenders.

While the police department has been forced to work with fewer staff members, the planning department is moving in the opposite direction.

Planning Director Ed LeClear told borough council that increased federal grant regulations has made compliance an increasingly difficult and time-consuming process. The 2015 budget calls for one new position to handle compliance efforts, bringing the planning staff’s housing division up to three staff members for the first time since 2005.

The proposed 2015 budget also calls for over $83,000 to continue to fund the Bellaire Court affordable housing development, which sparked some debate among council members.

Council member Tom Daubert noted that the borough has gone from paying for a third of the costs to operate Bellaire Court to paying for nearly half of the costs in only a few years. He asked if the property was cost-effective, and worth the borough’s continued investment.

LeClear said that some one-time maintenance costs – including failing laundry services – inflated the cost of maintaining the property in the 2015 budget.

Council member Evan Myers said that, regardless of the increase in cost, the Bellaire Property provides housing opportunities that are important to the borough and its residents.

“Government isn’t a business,” Myers says. “We’re here to serve our citizens, and this service is a worthwhile, important thing we provide.”

Council president James Rosenberg said the question isn’t whether to discontinue the property, but whether another entity could manage it better. Though Monday’s budget meeting wasn’t the time for that conversation, he said the borough “shouldn’t wait another year” to discuss that possibility.

Borough Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at its December 1 meeting, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal building. The budget is tentatively scheduled to be adopted by council on December 15.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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