DANVILLE - The public safety revenue committee decided Wednesday night that the Danville Police Department needs, at a minimum, three more police officers and the fire department needs at least two more firefighters to cover shifts adequately.
The citizen-and-aldermen panel has been meeting regularly for a few weeks now with representatives from the police and fire departments to discuss manning levels and to generate ideas and recommendations for increasing revenue to hire more officers and firefighters. The panel plans to make formal recommendations to the city council later this year.
At Wednesday night's meeting, the committee decided that the police department's most critical manpower needs are in patrol, although the number of detectives is down, too. But patrol needs two officers at least, and ideally, three to four more.
According to the committee, the ideal number of officers per shift is 13, and right now, first shift has 12, second shift has 13, but one of those is not at full duty, and third shift has 11, because two of those officers were hired last month for the new school resource officer positions at South View and North Ridge middle schools in the Danville school district. But their third shift positions have not yet been filled. The agreement between the city and the school district was for the school district to pay for the two officers during the nine months of the school year and the city would pick up the other three months.
City Comptroller Gayle Lewis said the written agreement between the city and the school district for those two positions has not yet been signed, so the school district is not paying for those positions yet.
Alderman Mike Puhr, co-chairman of the committee, said the basic need is for three additional officers. According to numbers from the comptroller's office, the cost of three new, probationary police officers would be roughly $186,000. By the end of their probationary period, the annual cost would be about $226,500.
On the fire side, firefighter Sean O'Kane said the department would like to return to its previous minimum manning requirement of 15 firefighters at a fire, and currently, it's 13, which is a change that was made a few years ago when the city faced a serious budget crunch and also cut about six positions in the department.
O'Kane said ideally, the department would like to add six more positions, but hiring just two firefighters would help a great deal with various manning situations.
According to numbers from the comptroller's office, the cost of two new probationary firefighters, including benefits, would be about $116,700 per year and by the start of their fourth year, that would increase to about $148,100.
The committee also discussed overtime that the city is paying in both departments.
According to numbers provided by the committee, there was $239,523 in police overtime in the last fiscal year and $307,464 the previous year. The fire department had $100,433 in overtime the last fiscal year and $73,468 the previous year.
Committee member Linda Bolton said overtime could never be entirely eliminated.
"It's trying to find some kind of balance," said Bolton, who added that it's about deciding whether the current number of patrol officers per shift is adequate to cover the city, factoring in that some of those officers may be working a shift on overtime.
Nancy O'Kane, committee co-chair and former alderman, said the fatigue factor that may play into officers who are working overtime is what concerns her, and she believes there's money in the $239,000 the city paid in police overtime last year to hire additional officers.
The committee also discussed doing more research into a private company that can handle billing insurance companies for some of the services the fire department provides on various calls to generate more revenue for the fire department. For example, a person's insurance company could be billed for the fire department using equipment to extricate a victim in a vehicle accident.
Sean O'Kane, the son of Nancy O'Kane, said at least one other fire department in the county already uses the private company, which pockets a certain percentage of the fees it collects and passes the rest on to the fire department. Bolton said it would be great to learn more about the company and how it works and to get data from the area department using the service.
The committee will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the municipal building, 17 W. Main St., Danville.