The city of Spokane may be too poor to accept federal money that would help hire more police officers, some officials say.
“We just might not have the money to allow them to be so generous,” said City Councilwoman Roberta Greene.
“I’m not sure we can afford the goodness of the grant at this point,” said Councilman Jeff Colliton.
In May, the U.S. Department of Justice promised the Police Department $1.5 million over three years to hire 20 cops. Earlier this month, the Justice Department offered the city another $750,000 over three years to hire 10 additional officers.
It may sound like the city won the lottery, but the truth is there’s no such thing as a free cop.
The council hasn’t decided whether to accept the $2.25 million because of the bill to the city that would come due in three years.
“We have to step back and do a reality check,” Greene said. “You can’t have short-term grants without long-term solutions.”
The city would pick up part of the tab for the police officers during their first three years. After that, the federal dollars would evaporate, leaving the city with the $1.7 million annual tab for the cops’ salaries and benefits.
“The kind of cash necessary for those extraordinary efforts isn’t available,” said Acting City Manager Bill Pupo.
The city already is scrambling to come up with the $1.5 million it will need in 1998 to pay for 26 officers hired in 1993 with the help of federal money.
The 1993 grant and this year’s grant work the same way. The city gets $75,000 for each officer - $25,000 a year for three years. The money can only be used to pay salaries and benefits for new, entry-level officers.
Based on 1997 rates, an entry-level officer earns about $35,000 a year in salary and benefits, leaving the city paying about $10,000 for that officer the first year.
Tack on another $15,000 the first year to outfit the officer with everything from a uniform to a car, bullets and gun.
A second-year officer earns about $41,300 a year including benefits, so the city’s share goes to about $16,400. That tab jumps to $57,100 for a third-year officer, with the city picking up about $32,100.
The fourth year, the officer’s salary and benefits stay about $57,100, but the city pays the whole amount.
The Police Department is realistic about the money, considering the city’s other spending priorities, said spokesman Dick Cottam.
“They need streets worked on. They need a lot of things worked on,” Cottam said. “We’re not trying to push the council one way or the other. This is simply an announcement that this funding is available.
“It’s up to the council whether to take it or not.”
Police Chief Terry Mangan cautioned against rejecting the money outright.
The city can hold onto the cash for up to three years without spending it, Mangan said, and can use some of the money to hire a few officers if need be.
It’s not 30 new officers or none, he said.
The economy may change in three years, and the city might find itself in a better position to cover its portion of the expense of hiring the new cops, Mangan said.
Or the city may find itself in a position where population growth forces it to hire new officers, he added. In that case, part of the cost would be covered.
Pupo said the 30 new officers haven’t been included in next year’s budget, but the Public Safety Committee - which includes Greene and Colliton - is studying the proposal.
Spending talks with the council have focused on finding ways to pay for street resurfacing now that the road bond issue didn’t pass, Pupo said.
“The city’s limping along (financially),” he said. “The budget doesn’t have the ability to absorb the grant.”
For years, Mangan has pushed for a higher officer-to-resident ratio.
The Police Department now has 286 officers, giving the city a ratio of 1.5 officers for every 1,000 residents. The 30 new officers would bring that ratio to 1.66 officers per 1,000 residents.
All new officers would be put on patrol, Cottam said.
But the increased work force would result in an average of only five additional cops on the street during each 24 hours because of training, vacations and sick leave, Cottam said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: A good deal for Spokane?