Union police will not be hiring any new officers with Prop P funds — at least for the time being.
During a special Union Board of Aldermen meeting Monday, Union Police Chief Norm Brune said the plan, for now, is to use the money to increase the compensation of officers already in the department.
Franklin County voters approved Prop P last April. The half-cent sales tax was pitched to voters as a way to pay for upgrades and expansion of the county adult detention center and 911 facility, and increase compensation for law enforcement officers.
The plan was for funds to be collected starting in October 2018 and dispersed in January 2019.
Union was told to expect to receive around $342,300 in funds based on sales tax figures from 2017.
A special meeting was called Monday to address how raises were being handled. At one point, Union Mayor Mike Livengood asked why the funds were entirely going to raises.
Livengood said some departments in the county are hiring new officers. He said in the past, before Prop P, Brune had asked for funds to hire additional officers.
Brune said while Prop P funds can be used to hire new officers, he said he believed the intent of the measure was to “elevate” existing officers.
Brune said he spoke with many officers in recent weeks and none wanted to see a new officer hired with Prop P money.
The chief said he ran numbers on the impact of hiring one officer. He said with salary and benefits, one new officer costs about $70,000. He pointed out that would take a major chunk out of the $340,000 the city is expected to get through Prop P.
Alderman Paul Arand pointed out if the city hired two new officers, starting salaries likely wouldn’t rise in line with the rest of the county. He said the department likely would still have problems with recruiting and retention.
The board discussed converting overtime pay, which comes out of the general fund, into new officers. Finance Director Heather Keith said the city spends about $120,000 annually on police overtime.
That figure, minus grants, could pay for a new officer. Brune said a new officer wouldn’t eliminate overtime. He said while some overtime is for extra shifts, other officers get overtime doing things like paperwork that are just part of the job.
Capt. Kyle Kitcher said he felt the department has problems now with a lack of experience because of so many young officers.
“What we really need, above anything else, is to retain our experience and build more,” he said.
He said keeping officers around will improve conditions. He added the problems the department has with keeping officers are “salary driven, not manpower driven.”
Another outcome of the Prop P discussions was a minor restructuring of the police department command staff.
Detective Sgt. John Biser will be promoted to lieutenant. Patrol officer Rick Neace will be promoted to sergeant.
Under the plan, the department would still be led by Brune. Kitcher would remain the No. 2 in command. Beneath Kitcher would be two lieutenants, Biser and Andrew Parker.
Parker would oversee the road patrol, including the road sergeants. He has been with the department since 1984 and has been a lieutenant since 2015.
Biser, who has almost 20 years with the city, would oversee the detectives and the school resource officer (SRO) division.
Brune said Biser would remain as a detective. He said Biser was the best detective he’s ever seen.
With his promotion, Neace would be the head of the new SRO division. Brune said the number of SROs has grown with four serving Union R-XI schools and two at East Central College, that someone was needed to oversee the group.
Neace has spent more than 20 years with the city and has been an SRO since 2015.
The board of aldermen approved the promotions at Monday’s meeting.