Can Silver Grove Afford a Police Department? Council Weighs Options
Silver Grove City Council convened Thursday evening to hash out further details of its impending decision on whether to hire an additional police officer for the community; a decision council pushed back and will come to finality at next month’s meeting, July 2 at 7 p.m.
Mayor Neal Bedel stated the city’s goal was “not necessarily a reduction of coverage for the police department, it’s more of…different ways to provide coverage for our citizens. Not only here in Silver Grove, but in Melbourne as well,” he said. The mayor added hiring an additional officer full-time was an option, but they are looking for cheaper alternatives. Next year’s police budget is $228,000, which encompasses one additional full-time officer, their insurance coverage and the cost of a new cruiser.
If the city decided to go with one officer and county backup, the cost lowers to $190,574. (Note: $36,000 is included in the aforementioned figure for a new vehicle, which would not be necessary for one officer, Bedel said.)
Silver Grove business owner Marlene Black voiced concern on the soaring costs to keep a business up and running. “It’s much more expensive and much harder to run a business today than it was 15 years ago,” she said. “From my standpoint, we either need to get out of the police department business completely or we need to find a way to make it cheaper. Two-hundred thousand dollars a year for a little town like Silver Grove to me is just unconscionable, just way too much money.” Black said she’s happy with the service the department provides but an additional officer isn’t financially feasible.
While council is exploring multiple plans, the mayor added there is value to having a neighborhood police department. “It’s different when you don’t have one of your own patrolling your community. You would like to think it wouldn’t be, but you can’t guarantee who will be down here, how often and how long they’ll be down here and what they’re doing,” he said.
But, the chief issue facing the city is money, especially given its stature as a poor community, council member Scott McCarter says of the police decision. “This thing (city budget) keeps going up every year. It’s to the point where it’s $230,000 dollars for us to have a cop. Cities of our size…Crestview, pay $15,000 dollars a year; Melbourne, they pay $20,000. And for us to almost pay $250,000 dollars a year is absurd. That’s why we’re addressing it…If we’re putting out this kind of money, the city needs to know what is going on and where this money is going,” he said.
Well aware of the financial issue, council member Paul Lindon proposed the idea of a seasonal officer, which would save the city money because it would not have to pay into the officer’s pension and health care.
“I like the seasonal option, I really do,” Bedel said. “I just don’t know how successful we’ll be finding somebody that’ll work six months, nine months out of the year and make sure that it’s during the summertime, too. But I think that’s a fantastic option and would save us a lot of money if we could do that. But what I am against is only having Doug here, or whomever, for only 40 hours a week, that’s going to be awful hard on us. I think we’ve come a long way in the last five, six years and I just don’t want to go backwards. But…we’ve got to be fiscally responsible.”
Story & photo by Jason Finnell, RCN contributor