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Police face layoffs

Andy Ouriel • Dec 31, 2013 at 4:10 PM

City commissioners recently proposed whittling down Sandusky’s $1.1 million deficit by slashing funding levels in various departments.

Among the tentative cuts: a $70,000 cut to the police department, amounting to axing one full-time officer.

The police department employs 45 full-time officers today.

Outsiders might claim the proposed police reduction represents small potatoes when considering the $70,000 totals:    

• About 6 percent of the $1.1 million deficit.

• About 1.5 percent of the police department’s $4.7 million annual budget. But beyond the numbers, these proposed cuts carry major ramifications, Sandusky police Chief John Orzech said.

At this time, Orzech said he can’t slash expenses without shedding workers.

Consequences of police layoffs

• Reduction or elimination of part-time officers, often called reserves.

• Reduction or elimination of court, evidence and training officers.

• Elimination of two officers patrolling in one car.

• Elimination of narcotics unit, including officers scaling back on investigating drug complaints.

• Elimination of community liaison program, where officers visit area organizations to foster goodwill.

• Cuts in detective bureau.

Salaries, wages and health benefits account for close to 90 percent of the proposed police budget in 2014. Officials have already cut travel, training, supplies, materials and other expenses needed for police operations.

Dropping manpower levels below 45 would trigger a series of staffing setbacks.

Sandusky’s union contract stipulates all reserve, or part-time, officers must be laid off prior to any full-time officers leaving for financial reasons.

When matching up salaries, about six part-time salary wages equals one full-time officer’s gross pay, when accounting for salaries and benefits.

Losing the reserves unit, consisting of eight employees today, means fewer officers patrolling during crime-heavy times, such as summertime, nights and weekends.

Also at risk of being eliminated: Two-officer patrols in one car and a community liaison program, aiming to foster goodwill between police personnel and area organizations.

“I would consider any reduction in current staffing levels as being problematic and detrimental to the services the Sandusky Police Department will be able to provide,” Orzech said. “The overall operations will be affected, the safety of our officers and citizens will be jeopardized and the perception of crime in Sandusky will adversely impact future economic development”

City officials want to avoid laying off police officers.

But it’s a necessary measure to erase the city’s red ink, many contend.

In fact, the police department faces minimal staffing setbacks when considering the fire department could lose 11 percent of its full-time work force during this fiscal crisis.

“No one wants to make these cuts,” commissioner-elect Dennis Murray Jr. said. “That’s the last thing we want to do. Our revenue stream has been cut, and we need a budget that faces the reality we face”

Orzech plans on talking with union representatives in hopes his officers can make concessions to offset the deficit.

Earlier this year, representatives negotiated a three-year pact — which includes annual 1.5 percent raises in each year — for a new labor deal. These raises amount to $120,000 over the contract’s life.

“We are open to discussion on anything,” said Douglas Behringer, an attorney representing Sandusky’s police union. “It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will agree. It just means we can discuss things”

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