Porterdale city officials decided Tuesday to eliminate the four-hour weekly furlough on all its employees, meaning the city will have 24-hour police coverage for the first time since last summer.
The majority of the funding for the those payroll costs, which would total roughly $30,000 this fiscal year, will come from a small contingency fund, while the rest will be borrowed temporarily from the water and sewer enterprise fund and repaid this summer using sales tax revenue, which is expected to continue to increase slowly, according to the city manager, Bob Thompson.
Police Chief Geoff Jacobs, who in his first year on the job last year had to juggle budget cuts with demands to crack down on thefts and enforce building codes, had been trying to assemble a workable citizens or neighborhood watch to help the force during tight times.
“It's important for the city to return to 24/7 coverage for a number of reasons, mostly because the criminal element is the first entity to take notice of the lack of patrol officers in the immediate area,” Jacobs said.
Faced with a dramatic drop in tax revenue last summer, Porterdale raised the property tax rate; laid off two employees, one from the Police Department and one from the Public Works Department; and instituted a four-hour weekly furlough for all city employees. As a result, the city has not had around-the-clock police coverage, relying on the Newton County Sheriff’s Office to respond to calls when city officers were not on duty.
Jacobs said that given staffing pressures at the Sheriff’s Office and other police agencies, he wanted to make sure Porterdale did not create an additional strain.
“The people were demanding 24-hour coverage,” Mayor Arline Chapman said. “I think the Police Department found that word got around pretty quickly the hours there wasn’t any coverage. There was an increase in petty thefts because they knew there wasn’t anybody watching. And of course we can’t allow that to happen in our town.”
Councilor Linda Finger, who campaigned as a frugal budget cutter and highlighted her votes against tax and fee increases, said she, “was certainly in favor of it.”
“We have to have our Police Department up and running. They have been understaffed for a while now,” she said. “We need to save where we can, but it’s hard to save when you don’t have properly staffed Police Department or Public Works Department.”
The City Council did not vote to increase any taxes or fees to cover payroll costs. Thomson said $3,000 will be borrowed from the Water and Sewer fund, which is separate from the city’s general fund and holds revenue and pays expenditures related to the water and sewer systems, until this summer.
He said that the furlough was necessary last summer, but sales tax revenue has been improving slowly, and is expected to continue to improve through the year.
Because the city’s revenue comes in very irregularly – for example, it receives a large amount related to sewers in March and most property taxes in December – Thomson said the city would borrow from the Water and Sewer fund until enough revenue accumulates to replace the money.
According to budget projections compiled by the city in December, a four-hour weekly furlough on all city employees would save about $30,000 through the entire 2012 budget year, bringing payroll expenditures to $497,588.61. Without a furlough, payroll expenditures would be $529,711.31.
On Monday, Brian Hornbuckle was sworn as an officer in after several weeks of training and Doug Clifton was sworn in as a part-time investigator. Hornbuckle’s is not a new position.