Crestwood police seek 10 new vehicles, new communications system in ’07 budget

Police budgeted to collect 45 percent more in fines and court costs in ’07

By BURKE WASSON

The Crestwood Police Department could benefit from plans for needed improvements in 2007 — if the city’s Board of Aldermen approves them.

In the city’s proposed 2007 budget, police are asking aldermen to approve funding for 10 new vehicles, a new communications system, an additional patrol officer and an administrative assistant.

City Administrator Frank Myers also has projected an increase of more than $100,000 in revenue collected from fines and court costs in 2007. The administration has recommended that aldermen budget $365,000 in anticipated revenue from fines and court costs in 2007. The city is projected to end 2006 with an estimated $251,950 in fines and court costs, which is less than the city’s originally budgeted revenue of $265,892.

Aldermen are scheduled to vote Tuesday night whether to approve the city’s 2007 budget, but the possibility of passing it after Jan. 1 still exists.

Mayor Roy Robinson told aldermen last week during a budget work session that if the board cannot approve the 2007 budget next week, the city could simply do what it did last year by extending the 2006 budget into 2007.

At the board’s Nov. 28 meeting, aldermen voted 6-2 to table first readings of the 2007 budget because they had not yet had a work session. That work session then took place on Nov. 29. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding and Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher were the only two opposed to delaying the first readings of the budget expenditures.

Crestwood Police have proposed that those expenses include a three-year, lease/purchase agreement for $90,000 per year for 10 new police vehicles. Largely because the city has not replaced a police car since 2003, Sgt. Rich Metz told aldermen last week that the leasing agreement is needed as a safety precaution for officers.

“We’ve found ourselves in a pretty bad situation because there has been no fleet management going on,” Metz said. “We haven’t replaced a police car since 2003. And now we’re left with an emergency-response fleet that is an average of 5.6 years old with over 80,000 miles on them. The result of that is we have vehicles that are unreliable and unpredictable.”

Myers added that the lease/purchase agreement would be the wisest move the city could make to restore its police-vehicle fleet because the replacement could occur sooner.

The Police Department also is requesting an upgrade in its radio system and an initial financial commitment of $95,000 in 2007 toward that new communications system. Last year, Robinson requested that funding for that new police radio system be taken out of the budget.

But this year, Myers and Capt. Frank Arnoldy are recommending that aldermen set aside $95,000 to begin the process of submitting requests for proposals and hiring consultants to assist in the installation of the new system.

“We wanted to plug in a number to get us started,” Myers said. “We’ve got to collect data, we’ve got to develop these RFPs, hire consultants … So we know we’ve got some upfront costs. The upfront costs aren’t $95,000. But once we do the RFP and actually bid and award the bid, we’re going to have a concrete number. That process, as Frank shared with you, will actually take nine months. So we’re really going to be looking at the next budget year. So this year, we’ve plugged in $95,000 to get us to a point where we likely will not spend all that money in the process we’re going through. But in 2008, we will have a hard number put in the budget to move forward on.”

The department is also hoping to have a new patrol officer in 2007. Aldermen approved the hiring of two officers in 2006 and neither position has been filled by a patrol officer. One position was filled by the newly created full-time duties of Residential Code Enforcement Officer Rosann Shannon, and the other would be filled by the proposed patrol officer in next year’s budget.

Because he believes the city’s budgeted 2007 surplus of $167,353 is not enough, board President Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 said he is searching for ways to cut expenses and proposed that the city not hire another officer.

“While the Police Department may be down, other staff has been hired for some of the things that were being performed by the Police Department,” Miguel said. “We have to look five years down the line and we have to prepare for emergencies. If one of the anchors in the mall went dark, we would have serious problems. And that could occur at any time. The surplus in this budget overall of $150,000, to me, is very marginal. And I think we need to hold the line on the police position. I think we also need to hold the line on the (administrative) intern position that you (Myers) are requesting. I frankly expected a much larger surplus, before I ever saw the budget, based on the surplus that we are showing this year and plus the additional Prop S funds that have been made available to relieve the city of debt. And so, we went through some major restructuring, and now we are gradually adding back. And I’m asking that we hold the line on these two positions — the police-officer position and the intern position.”

Police Chief Michael Paillou said that another patrol officer is needed to help reduce overtime costs in 2007.

“I’m asking to hire the lowest-paid, working patrolman that I have to go out there so my department is not bare bones,” Paillou said. “I can run the Police Department bare bones and I will not drop below safe staffing without paying overtime. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I can’t go home and sleep at night and do that. I don’t have any Band-Aids left.”

Police and code-enforcement officers are also projected to collect 45 percent more revenue from fines and court costs in 2007 than 2006, which prompted Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel to question whether Crestwood is sending a message that it is becoming a “difficult city.”

“Some constituents have made some comments to me that we are projecting some increases in our traffic fines,” Pickel said. “We now have a full-time, code-enforcement officer … I think there’s this perception out there Crestwood is becoming a difficult city. And I think we need to approach that with our eyes open.”

“Difficult how?” Myers said.

“That we’re cracking down on everything,” Pickel said. “Last night, we approved new radar guns. All these things create a perception that we’re becoming more of a difficult city and we’re trying to milk every dime we can out of people.”

“And that is not what we’re doing,” Myers said. “But I will say that in the past the city has not been writing traffic tickets. For a community this size and a police force this size, we could be looking at the court fines that are not, by the way, hitting budget and looking at numbers in the neighborhood of $100,000. What that’s saying is there was minimal traffic enforcement. We’re not ramping up traffic enforcement. But what we are doing is holding the Police Department to a higher standard than they have been in the past. And with residential code enforcement, what has happened is that because we were using police officers on a part-time basis to do residential code enforcement, we weren’t effectively and methodically doing residential code enforcement … And so there is a change, if you would, a shift from what we’ve been doing in a culture that I think some of our citizens have been used to and a new culture we are establishing. And that is going to cause some residents, I think, to complain. But in the end, I believe it’s necessary to keep our neighborhoods from slowly slipping.”

City Clerk Kimberly Cottle also added that another reason why fines and court costs are projected to rise in 2007 is because the city is following up on collecting ticket fines that it hadn’t before.

“Our court administrator is now actually in the court office all the time,” Cottle said. “She’s seeing what’s going, she’s checking policies and she’s doing a good job tracking down some of the tickets and the fines that nobody had gone after before. Parking tickets, for example. They had been written, but had not been followed up on always in a timely manner, so she’s been looking up on those things. So it’s not a matter always of looking for more revenue and looking for more tickets. Actually, some of what you’re seeing in the monthly reports and in what you’re seeing tonight under court fines and court revenues is actually an active process of following up on things that were out there but had never been collected.”