Updated 12:08 p.m.
CHAMPAIGN — Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said today that city officials decided the police department's lobby could remain open to the public for 24 hours per day with minimal disruption to the front desk employees' other duties, even with a skeleton staff.
The topic has been a key issue for nearly a year as city administrators looked to trim money from a tight budget and union leaders looked to protect their employees. Others were concerned about the police station's front doors, which officials had said would be locked for 12 hours every night if staff at the front desk were cut.
"At that time, we estimated or believed that we would need to shut the doors from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. due to the reduction in staffing," Daniels said. "The two workers that were going to be laid off because of this left employment with our department last summer, so we have lived in these conditions with seven workers for the past six months, so we were able to determine what the impacts of that would be."
Ultimately, he said, the disruption to the front desk staff's other duties, which include monitoring police radio traffic and relaying information to officers on the street, was outweighed by the benefit of keeping the lobby open around the clock.
"It's just not a service that we want to give up," Daniels said.
The staffing reduction will still happen, and the move is expected to save the city $140,000 annually. Instead of two employees working the front desk staff at night, often only one will be scheduled. While that one front desk staffer is away on breaks, a police officer will have to cover those duties.
Those officers will be unavailable for their typical duties while they are covering the front desk for 20 to 70 minutes, roughly eight times per week.
"Certainly, we would prefer not to have to use an officer to cover breaks," Daniels said, but that is the effect of a $140,000 budget cut.
Updated 10:41 a.m. with this news release issued by the city:
Champaign Police Department Lobby to Remain Open to the Public
Initial proposals to close the lobby to the public, during evening and overnight hours, were submitted in response to the City’s plan to address a funding gap projected in the Five Year Forecast. However, for the last six months, police administration reexamined the impact of reduced staffing and concluded that the workload generated during these hours is not a significant enough factor to take this course of action.
Therefore, the Champaign Police Department’s lobby hours will remain open to the public 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
A decision was made to allow the lobby to remain open for business, but with the assistance of police personnel. Champaign police officers and supervisors will relieve staff working at the front desk during breaks and short absences when needed.
Police department personnel will continue to respond to telephone calls from the public and internal staff. However, the public should continue calling "9-1-1" in emergency situations and (217) 333-8911 for non-emergency calls for police service. For general police information, calls can still be placed to the police department at (217) 351-4545.
Updated 8:25 a.m. Wednesday with this news release issued by the city:
CFD Station Four Engine Company Will Continue to Respond
The City of Champaign and Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 have reached an 18-month side-agreement averting the necessity to shutdown the engine company at Station Four, 2315 W. John Street. Champaign City Council will take formal action on the agreement at its next meeting.
“It was a shared sacrifice,” said Fire Chief Doug Forsman, “with the union giving wages and time concessions while the City agreed to provide funding for the current level of service for the next 18 months.”
IAFF Local 1260 President, Chris Zaremba said, "I am proud to say our members came together and voted in favor of an agreement whereby each member will work forty-eight hours of furlough time in addition to making wage concessions in the final year of our bargaining agreement. In doing so, our members once again demonstrated our commitment to providing the citizens of Champaign with the level of service they deserve and have come to expect."
The union is providing 55% of the funding through wage and time concessions in a side-letter agreement that will run until June 30, 2013. The cost to keep St-4’s Engine Company fully functioning for the next 18 months is approximately $650,000.
This agreement will allow CFD to continue to utilize the full complement of six engine companies, two ladder companies, one rescue company, and one incident commander. Nine fire companies will be available.
“Clearly both the City and the Union are pleased to have reached an agreement. Our goal has always been to maintain the highest level of public safety response assuring minimal impact on the community while recognizing the difficult budget decisions which has been necessary,” said Forsman. “Both parties worked very hard to make this possible.”
Forsman remains hopeful that at the end of the 18 months economic conditions are such that the current level of service can continue to be provided.
CHAMPAIGN — A flurry of deadlines and extensions have come and gone in recent weeks, but as of Tuesday, two key public safety budget cuts at Fire Station 4 and at the police department front desk were still pending as city officials work out the details with unions and employees.
Fire engine No. 154 on the city's west side remains in full service while administrators try to work a deal with the fire union. Officials said the engine company would be "browned out" on Jan. 1 before extending the deadline for two weeks to spend more time in negotiations with union representatives.
Reducing firefighter overtime ultimately would leave the engine unavailable to respond to emergency calls about 75 percent of the time, but it would save $400,000 annually in a struggling city budget.
Union president Chris Zaremba said on Tuesday that city administrators have essentially issued an indefinite extension on browning out the fire engine as long as the two parties continue to negotiate in good faith.
Zaremba said that firefighters are now considering a concessions package that would keep the engine in full service. If the union approves of the deal, it would go to city officials for their approval.
At the police department, Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said a public announcement on the fate of the lobby and front desk was being prepared for release by Wednesday morning. On Tuesday afternoon, he declined to comment on the details.
But in an email last week to police department employees, he said police officers would be tapped to fill in for a strained front desk staff.
In the email, Daniels told employees that they made the front desk staff's importance clear to city administrators.
An important point for those who are critical of the $140,000 budget cut at the police front desk is that reducing staff there would mean the department would have to lock its doors every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Police employees have spent the past few weeks preparing to implement the budget cut that first came before the city council early last year.
For months, seven staffers have been covering shifts at the police department's front desk that had been handled by nine employees. The duties of the position, among others, are to monitor police radio traffic and relay information to officers on the street. They also are the first point of contact for citizens who walk into the police department looking for any kind of assistance.
City officials said the budget cut would drop staffing levels at the front desk to a bare minimum at night.
It has become necessary to use sworn police officers and sergeants to relieve front desk staff during breaks and temporary absences, Daniels wrote in the email. Those relief periods could last anywhere between 20 and 70 minutes.