The big ticket budgets of Williamsport’s public safety departments were among those examined up close by the City Council during a second budget work session this week.
New police hires as the department attempts to keep the budgeted police complement at 51 officers, discussion with state police on a special assigned task force officer and efforts to reduce overtime and vehicular purchases to provide the best vehicles for the patrol officers to do their jobs and keep the city safe. These were among what was discussed by city Police Chief Justin Snyder and city police Assistant Chief Jason Bolt with council.
Fire Chief Sam Aungst and Deputy Chief Keith Lucas, meanwhile, said they are anticipating the possibility of having one of their lieutenants become an assistant chief of training.
In the environmental and codes office, Gary Knarr, city zoning administrator and codes manager, said the full-time manager can use assistance when she takes a vacation or is sick. He wants the city to budget for a part-time office manager.
The public safety departments are among the largest chunk of the budget combined, with the most unionized employees.
“We are holding at 51 officers,” President Adam Yoder said. “Yes,” Snyder replied.
The department was able to hire two of the four new officers it wanted of late.
The city ended up with an unexpected retirement last year, and had to fill the position, Snyder observed.
There were three additional and one of those slots was filled, he said, adding the department still has two openings. “Their backgrounds are (being reviewed) happening as we speak,” Snyder said.
“My point in saying this is we don’t really have a good sample size to really judge how are we going to impact overtime,” Yoder said. “Is it safe to assume that is why we are holding at 51 in next year’s budget because I know some of the conversations we’ve had . . . I think the long-term goal is to increase that?”
“Yes,” Snyder replied. “Right now, in all fairness we did not get a full year with all three officers to see what a true offset would be,” he said.
“We are coming up with ideas,” Snyder said. “Today, we had a talk with a representative of the Pennsylvania State Police that talked about funding another position – a specially assigned task force officer,” Snyder said. “Those are conversations that we can have to get a 52nd position that was fully funded and reimbursed,” he said.
Yoder asked further questions on overtime and was uncertain if the question would be for Snyder or Heather Jacoby, director of finance.
“Do we have a breakdown generally of where that overtime is accumulated?” Yoder asked. “I guess how much of it is additional responding to general calls that we get. How much of it is special events that go above and beyond. Do we have any kind of gauge of what that looks like?” he asked.
“To a degree . . . not necessarily on the types of calls,” Snyder said. The department did a breakdown of all the events it covered this year, of what was reimbursed and what was not. For example, the school resource officer reimbursement to the city is $130,000. The city also works with the U.S. Marshals Service.
“We have a spreadsheet for the events,” he said. “This year, we paid out $50,000 for the events, and some of that was reimbursed. For example, Little League was reimbursed to the city.
Investigative overtime records can be shared with the council.
Yoder asked for the breakdown on what is needed to be done to do core functionality as a police department.
Snyder said that would be provided.
“It will be helpful going into next year,” Yoder said.
“Realistically, you are looking at a particular sliver you are trying to minimize.
However, intangibles exist adding overtime expenses to most any police department. Contributing to this in the city are factors such as more officers with families at home.
As they take off, their shifts must be covered. Additionally, the department incurred unexpected injuries. “A lot of things we just don’t have control over,” Snyder said.
The department also plans to continue to replace its vehicle fleet.
Councilman Jon Mackey said he was curious about vehicle lease purchases. “Are we planning on buying new cars?” he asked.
“Yes, on a five-year lease on the first four we did but we will need to purchase some vehicles and are trying to catch up the fleet,” Snyder said. “We are much better than where we were but still need to catch up.”
Mackey said the city has money in the American Rescue Plan that it is assigned and questioned: “Does it make sense to sit on money when starting to get close to the deadline?” The allocations must be done by the end of next year and spending done by the end of 2026.
There is $265,000 out there assigned and it could be transferred, and it seemed silly to Mackey to lease a vehicle when it can be purchased.
“They are being purchased,” Snyder said, adding, after a dialogue with Councilwoman Liz Miele, that the department, on average, is looking at purchasing three cars per year. Upfitting each car has increased by $10,000 per vehicle, Snyder said.
“We might have to make changes;” Yoder said of Mackey’s statement on the use of assigned ARPA funds that might be helpful toward vehicle purchases.
The newly purchased police radios, bought using ARPA funds, are working as anticipated.
Miele asked for an updated ARPA budget reflecting where all line items are at as far as draw down, maybe to flag some projects and where they are expected to move and fit in the timeline.
“To get a good idea of where we need to transfer and get in line,” Miele said.
As for the fire department, Aungst along with Lucas presented a budget with a 3 percent cost increase proposed for unionized firefighters and 3 percent for an at-will administrative aide.
New this year is a request for an assistant chief of training position. A lieutenant is interested in the position and has the requisite skills, Aungst remarked.
The department has four platoons, he said, adding how the assistant chief of training is expected to ensure consistent training, be responsible for some reporting, such as oversight of EMS reports, and he will have his finger on the pulse of current firefighter culture. Each firefighter also gets two sets of turnout gear and the department is eager to next year see the arrival of three pieces of apparatus purchased by ARPA and community development funds.
City codes looking for
A part-time office manager for the codes office was asked for by Knarr.
Knarr asked for the position during the second budget work session to cover sick days and vacations taken by the full-time manager.
He noted the department budget to be about $893,893.
There is a A 5.4 % increase, overall, with 2.5 % from union salaries, Knarr said.
Knarr said he wanted two new replacement officers and could work with four officers.
The office is getting an average of 40 calls or complaints per week.
Having a part-time person would take up some of that, Knarr said.
Council also reviewed budgets for information technology, natural gas impact fee estimate (Act 13), liquid fuels fund, capital projects fund, City Hall operating and community development.
The natural gas (Act 13) fee fund will require two matching grants, one for a pump track at $224,159 and a comprehensive park plan for $70,000.
This year’s general fund operating budget is $28.6 million and did not have a tax increase.
Mayor Derek Slaughter said the proposed 2024 budget includes a 1 mill tax increase.
Council will take a break over the Thanksgiving holiday returning at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 for the first reading of the 2024 budget. The second reading and possible adoption of the 2024 budget is scheduled for the meeting on Dec. 14.