Politics & Government

CMPD wants to add 125 officers, 80 support personnel

Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers secure the scene where a police chase ended at the intersection of Lasalle street and Taylor Avenue. CMPD wants 125 new officers and 80 support personnel.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers secure the scene where a police chase ended at the intersection of Lasalle street and Taylor Avenue. CMPD wants 125 new officers and 80 support personnel. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department wants to hire as many as 125 new officers and 80 civilian employees, a request that could cost up to $16.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

With the crime rate up, Chief Kerr Putney last year said he would ask the city for more staff but wasn’t specific. On Friday, the city gave some detail and said the extra staff would enhance community policing, and would be used to support special events and lower response times.

At a budget planning retreat in Winston-Salem, city members did not explain how they might pay for the new officers and other needs. Friday’s meeting started the budget process, which will end in June.

An examination of early budget estimates suggests the city would need to raise property taxes or make sizable cuts to existing programs if council members want to fund the request.

To pay for the cost of the new officers and support personnel without budget cuts, the city would likely need to raise the property tax rate by about 2 cents for every $100 of valuation.

That would be a 4 percent property tax hike. The owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay $50 more a year.

If the city does raise taxes, it would be the city’s third property tax increase in the last four years. Mecklenburg County likely won’t raise property taxes next year.

Comparing other cities

CMPD, which has 1,840 officers, hasn’t added staff since 2008.

An Observer analysis from earlier this year shows CMPD has more officers per capita than all but one of the cities to which it compares itself. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics shows CMPD’s 2.27 officers per 1,000 people puts it right at the average for U.S. cities of similar size.

The additional officers would increase the number of officers to about 2.5 officers per 1,000 people. That would give the city more officers per capita than all other peer cities, which include Austin, Columbus, Ohio, Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis, San Jose and San Francisco. Putney said earlier Charlotte has a lower crime rate than all but one of those cities, San Jose.

It’s possible council members will decide to fund only some of the officers requested. They also could phase in the hiring.

The 80 civilian employees would include 911 operators and crime analysts.

Besides the $16.7 million for police, staff members said Charlotte has other needs:

▪ $5.2 million for two new Fire Department companies. One ladder company would serve the Northlake Mall area and another company would serve neighborhoods around the former Eastland Mall.

▪ Between $4.9 million and $9.6 million for employees raises, depending on the size of the pay hike. Since the 2008 recession, the city said its pay raises have been less than the private sector.

▪ Between $1 million and $3 million for new vehicles.

▪ Between $1 million and $3 million for technology upgrades, such as Voice over Internet technology.

The city said it could lose $1.5 million to $3.3 million because Mecklenburg County has told the city it no longer wants to use city services for some functions, such as city procurement.

For fiscal year 2017, which begins in July, the city estimates its general fund will have $623.9 million in revenue. The city estimates its expenses will be $619.6 million.

That leaves a surplus of $4.3 million. But the total cost of the police and fire increases, pay raises and other requests, could be more than $40 million.

Backing an increase?

Republican council member Ed Driggs said he believes the council, which has a 9-2 Democratic majority, would back a tax increase. He said the city should focus on cutting before raising taxes.

Looking back, Driggs said, he didn’t think the city needed to raise property taxes a year ago.

“Some people will wonder, ‘Did we need to raise the property tax?’ ” he said. “We will look like we need to come back (for a tax increase) every time we need something,” he said.

The Democrats at Friday’s meeting did not discuss how they might pay for new staff. Democrat Vi Lyles, a former budget director for the city, said the city should strive for “consistency” with its budget so people know whether to expect taxes to increase.

After the meeting, Democrat John Autry said he supports the three largest requests: for police, fire and pay increases.

“We have to move forward with those things,” he said. “The issue is how much money we will have to work with.”

He said he will advocate to make sure the city’s lowest-paid employees are given raises.

The current property tax rate is 47.87 cents for every $100 of valuation.

Increasing the property tax rate by a penny generates $8.9 million. For the city to fund the pay increases, new staff and other capital purchases could require a 4 cents property tax rate increase. That would be an increase of 8 percent.

In 2013, the city raised the tax rate by 7.25 percent to pay for more than $800 million in capital spending. In 2015, the city raised the tax rate by 2 percent.

However, the city also reduced the garbage fee that residents pay from $47 to $25 a year. That meant most people saw a reduction in their tax bill, though wealthier homeowners paid more.

It’s possible this year that garbage bills could rise. The city said it expects Mecklenburg County to increase the fee the county charges at its landfill. That could cost the city $600,000.

That year, the city had a budget shortfall from the General Assembly’s decision in 2014 to repeal the business privilege license tax.

Besides a possible property tax rate increase, other fees could be going up.

The Charlotte Area Transit System could seek a fee increase. In recent years, the transit system has had a fare increase every other year, and it held fares steady in 2015.

CATS and Charlotte Water didn’t present their budgets Friday.

Staff writer Cleve R. Wooston Jr. contributed.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs