PHOENIXVILLE — After a lot of discussion, borough council voted at last Tuesday night’s public meeting in favor of applying for a federal grant which would pay for most of the salary of a new police officer for the first three years of service.
“I don’t know if we’re in the greatest position to get this grant,” Phoenixville Police Chief Bill Mossman. “If we don’t apply for it, we’re obviously not going to get it.”
The “COPS grant” is run by the United State Department of Justice and aims to increase hiring in police forces, specifically targeting the hiring of school resource officers and military veterans. Another goal of the grant for 2013 is to reduce gun violence and homicides, according to the program’s official website.
Mossman said the grant is typically put out every year but has had a few hiccups, such as last year when it was offered.
If the grant were obtained and a new officer was hired, Phoenixville’s police force would consist of 29 officers.
Unfortunately, the grant was just recently announced and Mossman and the police department have just two weeks to submit their application, thus the vote at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is as last-minute to (me) as it is to (you),” Mossman told council.
Mayor Leo Scoda endorsed going after the grant.
“If we could look at the fact that the borough grew 10 percent from the 2000 census to 2010, and it will likely grow again, I think there’s no question we’ll need these police down the road,” he said.
In 2006, a study was done that recommended the borough hire six more police officers, Mossman said. When he took over that year, he said he wanted to add five to the force, of which they’ve added four.
“We’re still trying to catch up to the developments of 10 years ago,” he said.
The Phoenixville Police Department spent many of the last months attempting to stay at its full roster and has hired two patrolman in 2013 to fill out its roster.
Much of the discussion surrounding the grant was whether hiring a new officer under the grant was worth the budget space necessary.
According to Mossman, the grant would pay for 75 percent of a newly hired officer’s salary for the first three years, not to exceed $125,000.
Councilwoman Dana Dugan said that there would still be budgetary considerations attached to a hiring.
“It is a significant amount of money we would accept over the next three years,” she said. “Eventually, I agree, we will need a police officer...(but) if we add this, this will mean raising taxes and we’re cutting something else.”
Part of the agreement in accepting the grant is that the officer hired cannot be let go as soon as the federal funding stops.
“We don’t really necessarily need this officer at this point,” Dugan said, though she again acknowledged a new officer would likely be necessary in the future.
Mossman “respectfully disagree(d)” with Dugan, saying, “This officer (we’re) talking about we were talking about 10 years ago.”
Because of the roster being below full and what was budgeted, Mossman said there has been savings on salary.
“We could hire an officer this year at full-rate,” he said.
“The risk and reward is worth tasking the risks.” said Councilman Dave Gautreau. “By the time he arrives, he is going to be needed.”
If the grant were to be awarded to the Phoenixville Police Department, it could be turned down if council decides against hiring.
As councilman Karl Bucus put it, voting for the grant was essentially voting “just in case” the council decided they wanted to hire a new officer this year.
The measure approving application for the grant passed 6-2, with Dugan and Bucus against it.