While seeking other cuts, Stothert plans to stick to her guns on police funding in 2014 - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:25 pm
While seeking other cuts, Stothert plans to stick to her guns on police funding in 2014

Mayor Jean Stothert says she's committed to hiring additional police officers, leasing new cruisers and updating police radio equipment in 2014 even while seeking cuts in most city departments.

Stothert is evaluating her spending plans for the state's largest law enforcement agency as she compiles next year's city budget. It follows her successful mayoral campaign in which she promised to tackle street crime and add police officers.

The mayor said balancing the city's finances, though, will require cuts to civilian police employees.

Meanwhile, Stothert's administration is grappling with how to pay the Fire Department's expenses, many of which are mandated by a fire contract that Stothert helped negotiate. Overall, Stothert says 2014 spending requests are $20 million over revenue projections.

Stothert's 2014 budget proposal, due to the City Council on July 23, is far from complete, although some parameters of the general fund budget are taking shape.

Stothert shared numbers with The World-Herald that summarize departmental requests from early May, along with spending targets she returned to city officials.

“It's all about being smarter with your budget, not just keeping on doing things the way we've done it. It's smarter, it's leaner, it's more efficient,” she said.

Stothert's spending targets for the Parks, Public Works, Fire and Police Departments are close to their budgets for this year.

The Police Department requested a roughly $8 million increase from this year's $121.2 million budget. Stothert's spending target is slightly more than $120 million.

Stothert said she wants to build to this year's department-authorized strength of roughly 800 officers with a new recruit class.

To save money this year, Stothert said, she will delay a recruiting class that was scheduled to start work this fall.

Police officials had been working to select this year's recruit class, police spokeswoman Lt. Darci Tierney said.

But next year, Stothert hopes to add officers with one larger recruiting class.

“I think that we can get (Police Chief Todd Schmaderer) close to his target with other efficiencies, while keeping that full sworn strength and by doing the class,” Stothert said, not by cutting out plans to lease new cruisers.

“Those are important things to them.”

Cutting other Police Department expenses, the mayor said, could mean cutting back overtime within the department.

“I think that there are some things that we could work on changing that would make a tremendous difference,” Stothert said.

“They are being very, very cooperative, the police, in working with us,” Stothert said.

But the Fire Department presents another challenge.

Fire officials requested a roughly $96.6 million budget for next year — a 17 percent increase over this year's budget and a 35 percent hike over 2012, according to the Mayor's Office.

Stothert's Fire Department spending target for 2014 is slightly more than $83 million — roughly a 1 percent increase from this year.

The Fire Department's budget request includes a 2.9 percent wage increase mandated by the new fire contract.

Stothert said other provisions in the contract, including mandatory training for new paramedics, also contribute to the department's expenses.

The mayor said she does not intend to reopen negotiations over the fire contract, as Fire Chief Mike McDonnell has suggested. Instead, she said, the city could perhaps ease costs through separate agreements with the fire union.

McDonnell has already blamed the contract for creating extra costs that he said the department's current budget cannot absorb.

Earlier this year, former Mayor Jim Suttle's office announced that a recruit class of about 40 firefighters would begin training to offset retirements and contract costs mostly related to mandatory paramedic training. The class would help reduce projected overtime costs next year by about $1 million, Suttle said.

“We're examining the contract, we're examining the class, we're examining what our options are,” Stothert said.

“We really have to reduce some of those costs in fire,” she said. “That department has to run more efficiently.”

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