Phoenixville Council votes down budgeting for additional police officer

PHOENIXVILLE - At the Nov. 12 meeting of Phoenixville Borough Council a proposed amendment which would have called for the budgeting of a 29th officer to the borough police department was voted down 2-5.

Supporting the addition of a police officer were East Ward council members David Gautreau and mayor-elect Michael Speck. Down votes came from all other council members except for Middle Ward council member Jennifer Mayo, was not present at the meeting.

Speck began the discussion of adding another officer to the police force, while still maintaining a 0% tax increase, as council was considering the 2014 Draft Budget.

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Borough Manager E.J. Krack said he and Finance Manager Stephen Nease could, if necessary, find room in the budget to add another officer. The proposed budget does include the addition of two persons to the streets department, one to sanitation and one to public works.

We have looked at our projections, and we believe that, if it was councils pleasure, that we could work on the revenue side to get some additional dollars, Krack said.

Gautreau offered comments prior to the official amendment proposal by Speck.

If it doesnt happen this budget year I encourage the new council coming forward, please do not wait until this towns population is booming to move forward. Its important to get it in place now and do the right thing We are a growing town and its very important.

Speck then put forward the amendment to add a 29th officer, effective July 1, 2014. The proposal was seconded by Gatt.

Prior to vote on the amendment comments were offered by Middle Ward council member Karl U. Bucus.

When we take a look at our coverage number versus other municipalities we are in the same ball park we are not, by that metric, understaffed which begs the question, from a coverage standpoint, a public safety standpoint, is there a need on the street that we are hearing about from our constituents? My constituent comments have ten to one have been about (non-police) services.

Bucus then added that he did not feel that a case could not be made should relevant data suggesting a need for another officer be provided to council.

I personally am totally persuadable, said Bucus,but the data has not been brought to bear to persuade me.

After Bucus spoke, Council President Richard Kirkner shared his thoughts on how he felt the budget best be directed in terms of personnel.

I can talk both sides of this issue, but when I started (my current term) on council in 2006 we had 101 full time employees and, I believe, 24 or 25 police officers. We now have 89 employees and 29 police officers, he said. So that means in the non-police functions we have seen a ten percent reduction and as the borough grows so do the responsibilities of all departments.

He went on to point out that the borough has more parks than in 2006, and fewer employees in the Streets Department to take care of the parks.

We built up the police department in past years lets get our non-police staffing back up to where it should be.

He finished his comments by adding that he was coming down on the side of the (Borough) Manager and Finance Directors recommendation increase staffing levels on the non-uniform level, this time.

Speck added that he still felt there was a way to add the police officer within the numbers before his motion was voted upon and defeated.

Council did go on to approve the motion to schedule the draft budget for 2014. Council voted 7-0 to schedule and advertise the Public Hearing on December 10, therein considering an ordinance that will set the millage rate for Real Estate in 2014 at 5.32 mills. According to Krack, this is the same rate as 2013 and equates to no increase in taxes for the new year.

Earlier in the meeting, council unanimously ratified the collective bargaining agreement between borough council and the police department. The three-year agreement, which lasts until Dec. 31, 2016, includes a 3.5 percent pay increase per year for members of the department.

Kirkner stated that the 3.5 percent increase is comparable to that of other municipal police pay increases in the region, and is the reality of the landscape. He added that the current agreement works out better for the borough than the previous agreement, which had gone to arbitration.

Council member James Kovaleski of the West Ward, who represented council in the matter, was commended by fellow West Ward council member Dana Dugan for his hard work and dedication in his representative role.