Charlotte-Mecklenburg police will likely get 75 fewer new officers than Chief Kerry Putney had originally requested, but the City Council will be able to more easily balance its budget without a large tax increase.
In January, Putney said he needed 125 new officers and 80 support personnel to handle a growing population and more special events. His request came as crime in Charlotte had increased in 2015, including a more than 30 percent jump in homicides from a year earlier.
The proposal reviewed by the council’s budget committee Monday morning is for 50 new officers, 20 people to handle 911 calls and five new hires for the crime lab. Instead of costing the city $17.5 million, the smaller request will cost $4.4 million.
Council member Ed Driggs, vice chairman of the budget committee, said the city will work to hire more officers in the future.
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“We don’t want to have a flurry of activity and then leave them flat,” Driggs said.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was never going to be able to hire 125 new officers in a year, in part because it can’t train that many new people at once. So in one sense, the council’s tentative decision to hire fewer than 125 officers is not a surprise. CMPD had not proposed a detailed schedule of when all 125 officers would be hired.
“We questioned the chief whether he could still get the job done,” Driggs said. “That would take one officer away from each precinct. (The chief) is concerned whether we have a plan for the future.”
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.
“We will continue to work with city leaders to ensure we secure an appropriate staffing level that will keep our community safe,” said CMPD spokesperson Rob Tufano.
The Charlotte Fire Department had also requested 36 new positions, including a new ladder company for the Northlake Mall area. That request was for $5.2 million.
In Monday’s proposal, the Fire Department will receive $2.1 million for Ladder Co. 28, at Northlake. That will hire 18 firefighters to staff the ladder truck, which can more effectively fight fires in tall buildings.
A new ladder company for the area near the old Eastland Mall wasn’t funded.
The city said the call volume for Station 28’s service area – the area surrounding Northlake Mall – has increased 66 percent over the last 10 years because of development.
Council members are debating what should be included in the city budget for fiscal year 2017, which starts in July.
If the scaled-back police and fire plan is approved, the city would have about a $3.6 million shortfall. That’s about a half-percent of the city’s general fund budget of $632 million.
As of now, the budget includes a 3 percent raise pool for city employees, which costs $9.2 million.
To balance the budget, council members could vote to raise property taxes, make service cuts, or a combination of both.
Budget officials also said council members could raise a garbage fee paid by homeowners. That fee was $47 for single-family homes two years ago, but council members lowered it to $25 last year. That was done to offset the impact of a small property tax increase.
But that garbage fee could be going back up.
The city has been considering whether to eliminate garbage collection for apartment complexes, a move that would save about $3 million – almost the size of the current shortfall. But the budget discussed Monday is based on the city continuing to provide garbage service for apartments.