- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
A Springfield fire station and a police substation will close their doors on Jan. 1 and overtime will be reduced for police officers and firefighters next year, which could lead to slower response times.
The reductions are being made as part of the city of Springfield’s efforts to balance its budget next year after voters rejected an income tax increase on the ballot last month.
Staff members recommended about $1.5 million in cuts to several departments next year to avoid a projected deficit, but a split Springfield City Commission ultimately decided to slash $800,000 from its budget. That included $100,000 in cuts to police and fire overtime.
Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller also said he plans to close both Fire Station No. 5 on Commerce Road and the Johnny Lytle Police Substation.
It’s a significant risk to close the police and fire stations, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.
“These are tough decisions and in both cases I really, deeply wish we didn’t have to do it,” he said. “That’s the fiscal realities we’re stuck with. I’m very sorry we’re at this point.”
The overtime cuts to the Springfield Police Division would be about $40,000. That leaves the division with about $140,000 in overtime for next year, Springfield Police Chief Stephen Moody said. About half of the overtime budget is based on staffing, Moody said, which could be reduced to about 109 sworn officers in April.
“It’s currently and it’s going to continue to be a challenge to respond in a timely manner, especially the lower priority calls,” Moody said. “It’s already occurring to some point.”
The police division responded to about 58,000 calls last year. It has already surpassed 59,000 calls this year, Moody said. For the first 10 months of the year, all crime was up almost 9 percent, Moody said, including violent crimes (12.6 percent) and aggravated assaults (21.3 percent).
Quality of life issues, such as loud music and theft complaints, are going to be given a lower priority based on staffing levels, Moody said.
“Any time there’s life or violence involved, we’re going to respond,” Moody said. “That’s a higher priority call.”
Neither police nor fire divisions can cut many on-the-street jobs because the city charter requires minimum manning levels for safety officers, including 124 police officers and 127 firefighters. But there may be fewer first responders on duty at any one time with the overtime cuts.
Due to retirements and other departures, the police division may be down to about 109 officers by April. The division will hire new officers to fill those vacancies at the end of January, but they won’t be on the street until their training is complete in September.
“We can’t count nor can the community depend on the officers in training,” Moody said.
Springfield is losing qualified officers to other communities who pay better, he said.
Due to current vacancies and retirements, there will be fewer officers on the street until they can hired in January and trained, Bodenmiller said.
The city is projected to generate $38.4 million in general fund revenues next year. However, it’s estimated to spend about $39 million from its general fund, most of it on personnel and medical insurance, creating a nearly $600,000 structural deficit.
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.
The calls made in the area of Fire Station No. 5 will covered by the closest available unit as it always has been, Heimlich said.
“It’s the way our system has always operated and will continue to operate that day,” Heimlich said. “It’s not something that we had to invent.”
Fire Station No. 5 on Commerce Road was chosen because it had the lowest call volume in the city, he said. However, it’s unclear how many calls that station took for other units throughout the city.
“That’s the one we’re going to be watching because that’s the one that’s harder to predict,” he said.
The fire division is expected to spend about $90,000 in overtime from the general fund next year, he said. It has been planning for this situation since this summer, Heimlich said.
“It’s a good thing we did so now we’re ready,” he said. “We have a purposeful structure built to address the responses we’re going to be needed to make.”
The police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue plays a major role in how the police division interacts with the community, Moody said. It’s been the home of the Citizen’s Police Academy for 21 years, as well as Bike Camp, Law Camp and other community functions, which could end with the closing of its doors.
Next week Operation Santa will serve more than 90 children and their families in Springfield, Moody said.
“It’s tough for the southwest part of the community,” Moody said. “We have people walk-in with complaints all the time … I’m gravely concerned that essentially closing that station eviscerates our community policing efforts.”
The city may also lay off up to 10 people in the records department next year to save money, taking police officers off the street to fill those jobs.
The city will have to work harder to engage the community, Copeland said.
“As we move police officers into doing paperwork and take them off the street, the first place you look at and say ‘What’s happening that can we live without?’” he said. “It’s literally living that’s at stake … It takes them away from community relations activities, which in the long run may be just as important, but in the short run, aren’t seen as critical.”