SALINEVILLE - With budgets tight and an audit looming, police Chief Tim LaClair said it's time to think outside the box.
LaClair said Wednesday that in an effort to cut costs, he favors reducing most police department staffing to part-time, at least temporarily. Under that plan, the chief would be the only full-time officer, with part-time officers covering shifts, including midnights.
He said he appreciates that most previous village administrations have insisted the police department be staffed for 24-hour coverage with full-time officers. The village's financial current financial situation, however, may mean that needs to change.
The chief said he has studied the village's financial situation and the labor force of his department. He believes he could restructure the hours of existing officers and then, by hiring additional part-time officers, could still provide the police coverage and protection the village needs.
"Everyone likes to have a full-time department, and that is preferred," he said. "But if the money for that isn't there, then it isn't there. It's time to explore other options."
He said village officials have some hard decisions to make, but reducing staff to part time would be better for the department's personnel, and be more cost effective than layoffs suggested by some members of the village council.
LaClair said he has been studying costs, and reducing officers to part-time status would be done at a cost savings to the village without having any officers lose their jobs. Currently he and three other officers are on full time schedules.
unemployment and other expenses for furloughed police would offset much of the cost-savings of layoffs, he said.
Reducing officers to 24 hours per week, for example would save expenses for each officer without any of them losing their jobs totally, he said. With those reductions, LaClair said he would then hire more part-time officers to cover shifts.
"We want to save money, but we still want to be able to respond to calls, and have officers on the street and on patrol," he said.
LaClair said he is aware that the number of full- and part-time officers could affect the village's eligibility for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants from the United States Department of Justice. The COPS grant now in effect is in the final year of the three-year grant, which expires in July, he said.
Under the provisions of a COPS grant, the village received funding for a full-time officer for three years, then the Justice Department expects the local government to provide funding for that officer for an additional year.
Even if the village was in better financial shape, the council would have to consider whether or not there was money available to fund the COPS officer for a year, LaClair said.
He said he and other village officials knew going into 2012 there would be some choices to make with regard to the police department since a police levy failed in November.