$100K cut to Springfield police, fire OT may mean slower responses

Dec 08, 2016
Katherine Colins
A Springfield Fire/Rescue Division firefighter prepares for a run at Station No. 1. The fire division faces $60,000 in overtime cuts next year as the city looks to address a deficit. Katherine Collins/Staff

Springfield city leaders have recommended cutting $100,000 in overtime pay for police officers, firefighters and medics next year, which could mean fewer first responders on the streets.

The proposed cuts come after voters rejected an income tax increase on the ballot last month. Staff members have recommended about $1.5 million in cuts to several departments next year to avoid a projected deficit, including to safety forces, a local tourism agency, and the municipal court and clerk’s office.

RELATED: Springfield leaders want to cut $451K from municipal court, clerk

Neither police nor fire divisions can cut many on-the-street jobs because the city charter requires minimum manning levels for officers and firefighters. But there may be fewer first responders on duty at any one time with the overtime cuts.

The fire division plans to decrease its overtime by about $60,000 next year, Springfield Fire/Rescue Division Chief Nick Heimlich said. He plans to lower the number of firefighters working each shift from 28 to 25.

“It’s effectively one of our units of service,” he said.

That means calls will be more narrowly distributed between who’s on shift at the time. It could affect response times, he said, but only time will tell.

“It means our individuals will have to pick up that distributed workload in a way that means they’re busier than they were,” Heimlich said.

It also means that less critical tasks might be put off, he said, or not happen at all. Business inspections, hydrant maintenance and training could fall to the wayside, Heimlich said.

READ MORE: Springfield budget cuts debate turns heated, could go to ballot again

“Our need to be constantly in motion managing the incident responses reduces our ability to meet those needs,” he said.

The overtime cuts to the Springfield Police Division would be about $40,000, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. The cuts will likely mean slower response times for lower priority calls to police, he said, like noise complaints or some thefts.

“None of the things that are being considered are easy,” he said. “They’re all difficult decisions.”

The city has already cut “the fat,” Mayor Warren Copeland said, so it has to start cutting more basic city services.

“These are tough decisions to make but we know we had no choice,” Copeland said.

The city is projected to generate $38.4 million in general fund revenues next year. However, it’s estimated to spend $39.8 million from its general fund, including about $32 million for personnel and medical insurance.

City staff members have also recommended layoffs that would save about $250,000, eliminating funding to the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau to save about $417,000 and cuts to the Municipal Court’s budget of about $269,000.

The city has also recommended closing Fire Station No. 5 and the Johnny Lytle police substation.

Springfield city commissioners will meet at 7 p.m. today in the City Hall Forum, 76 E. High St., and will hold a first reading of next year’s budget. They are expected to discuss the proposed cuts further and then vote on them Dec. 13, although they have indicated commissioners might approve a temporary budget for now.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau has called for its supporters to attend the meeting tonight to lobby commissioners to not eliminate its funding.

Both Copeland and Bodenmiller would like the city to put an income tax increase on the ballot again in May. That decision will have to be made by early January, Copeland said.

The levy was rejected by about 200 votes, he said, and once residents see services cut, they may change their minds.

“We just barely lost,” he said.