Council weighs plan to add 25 city employees

The city council must approve the addition of the new positions, which would cost $1.16 million.
Friday, August 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Three police officers and two firefighters are among the 25 new employees the Columbia City Council should authorize for fiscal year 2005, according to a budget proposed by City Manager Ray Beck.

The new positions, which run the gamut from public safety to vehicle maintenance to public works engineers, would cost the city about $1.16 million, said Robert Ross, spokesman for the city. The city council will consider Beck’s recommendations over the next several weeks as it holds work sessions and public hearings on the budget, a final version of which will take effect Oct. 1.

The three police officers, two of whom would be sergeants, would be hired with the specific goal of assisting the Columbia Police Department’s efforts to further community policing and curtail crime in the central city, downtown and East Campus areas.

Police Chief Randy Boehm asked for two sergeants and one patrol officer. Boehm said the sergeants would be assigned to work the fourth shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., which covers the peak crime hours when the largest number of police are on duty.

No sergeant is specifically assigned to oversee the shift, Boehm said. The situation has forced him to ask sergeants covering the overlapping third shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., to handle the fourth shift as well, supervising as many as 10 patrol officers at a time.

That, Boehm said, is “a lot for one person.”

If the two new sergeants are hired, one would be assigned each night to the East District and one would be assigned each night to the West District.

Boehm said the two sergeants would “allow us to look at the idea of implementing a Fourth Squad,” which would comprise a number of officers permanently assigned to the fourth shift under the supervision of one of the two proposed sergeants. The squad would focus on patrolling the central city, downtown and East Campus areas during peak crime hours, Boehm said. He said he hopes this idea will help improve the department’s community policing concept.

Boehm said the Fourth Squad existed under his predecessor, Norm Botsford, but was dissolved when Botsford implemented the District policing plan and the Fourth Squad officers were integrated into the rest of the force. Boehm said the opportunity to bring the Fourth Squad back presented itself when the hiring of three additional new officers was proposed, and the general Fourth Squad concept is being discussed.

The third police department hire would be a patrol officer specifically assigned to the CAT, or community action team.

“The CAT team is our trouble-shooters, our problem-solvers,” Boehm said.

The three officers now assigned to the CAT team spend a lot of time downtown, doing “walk throughs” of bars and checking into reports of underage drinking. They also tend to focus on peace-disturbance calls in the East Campus area, Boehm said.

If an additional CAT officer is hired, Boehm said, the department would have two teams of two.

Beck’s budget also calls for two new firefighters. Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said if the hires are approved, they would be placed in the emergency services division. According to a staff report, Sapp said the new firefighters would actually save the city money by curtailing overtime costs for existing firefighters.

“It’s cheaper to hire full time than to pay overtime,” Sapp said. The new firefighters would staff special events or take over shifts when someone calls in sick, among other things, Sapp added.

Municipal Court Clerk Shara Meyer may be getting a new deputy clerk, too. Hiring an additional person would “alleviate the burden on the current deputy clerk,” Meyer said. The deputy clerk spends about 90 percent of her time in court, which makes it difficult for her to complete her filing duties. It’s “a bit of a strain,” Meyer said.

If the new deputy clerk position is approved, Meyer said, the clerks will be able to resume their fine-collection duties, a responsibility they’ve been unable to keep pace with given all the fines and violations flooding the court.

The city prosecutor’s office is also feeling the strain of a growing city. City Prosecutor Rose Wibbenmeyer said the city now has two prosecutors and two clerks to handle all Municipal Court cases. Filing and prosecuting cases, along with providing discovery to defense attorneys, requires a lot of work and photocopying, she said. The court clerk and the prosecutor’s clerk would cost the city $38,915 and $30,771 in salary and benefits, respectively.

Beck has also proposed making four temporary part-time bus-driving positions permanent. Mark Grindstaff, public works supervisor, said the temporary drivers were hired earlier this year when the city overhauled its bus routes.

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