An estimated $70,000 cut to police services would help eat away at Sandusky’s $1.1 million shortfall in the 2014 budget.
But commissioners also reasoned with Sandusky police Chief John Orzech: They’d refrain from making layoffs as long as the top cop could slash $70,000 elsewhere.
Luckily for 55 part- and full-time police employees, Orzech found $72,500 in savings. This includes officers forgoing taxpayer-funded physicals, estimated at $32,000, in 2014.
Orzech needed the police union’s permission to offer up these cuts.
“A solid working relationship and partnership will be needed amongst the administration, commission and union as we continue to move forward and evaluate our expenses and services that we provide to our citizens and business community,” Orzech said.
Commissioners, delighted with Orzech’s solution, decided to backtrack from reducing staffing levels and tentatively agree with his proposal.
“It’s important that our citizens know we mistakenly talked about getting rid of a police officer, and that was the wrong approach,” commissioner Dick Brady said. “We got a savings without losing one officer. We are just as safe tomorrow as we are today” Other departments aren’t so lucky. Chief among them: The fire department, where four full-time firefighters are set to lose their positions by May thanks to Sandusky’s fiscal crisis. A final vote on a balanced budget, which includes $1.1 million in cuts, must occur by March.
Outsiders might claim the proposed $70,000 police reduction might seem insignificant when considering the amount totals:
• About 6 percent of the $1.1 million shortfall.
• About 1.5 percent of the police department’s $4.7 million annual budget.
But beyond these numbers, a $70,000 cut carries major ramifications.
Salaries, wages and health benefits account for close to 90 percent of the proposed police budget in 2014.
Officials previously cut travel, training, supplies, materials and other expenses needed for police operations. It only seemed logical to shed salary from payroll. But dropping manpower levels below 45 full-time officers would trigger a series of troubling staffing setbacks.
Sandusky’s union contract stipulates all reserve, or part-time, officers must be laid off prior to full-time officers leaving for financial reasons.
Losing the reserves unit, consisting of eight employees today, would mean the reduction or elimination of:
• Court, evidence and training officers. q Two officers patrolling together in one car.
• The narcotics unit, including officers investigating drug complaints.
• The community liaison program, where officers visit area organizations to foster goodwill.
• The detective bureau. Orzech said a similar budget crunch, possibly calling for reductions in staffing levels, could once again occur in 2015.
“If we make any further cuts, we are going to see negative impacts on our community,” Orzech said. “I think we are pretty safe, barring any twists and turns to the budget right now”