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12/8/2015
New Castle County adds 15 officers; Weiner: "Will we be able to sustain this growth without asking taxpayers to fund an additional tax?"

Some council members warned about potential cuts to county revenues by the General Assembly. The state is facing a $160 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. This follows intense budget wrangling in the most recent General Assembly that produced a failed proposal to take about $10 million in recurring revenue from New Castle County's coffers to help the state balance its budget.

Because it is one of the largest areas of county spending, the police force will likely be one of the first targets if budget cuts are mandated by state action. The county's Public Safety Department, which includes emergency response and policing, accounts for 40 percent of county government workers. Police operations are under the Public Safety Department and include $47.5 million in government salaries and benefits for this fiscal year. Since 2013, police officer staffing has been increased twice. One increase added five positions permanently. The other added five temporarily.

"What happens when the grant runs out, will we be able to sustain this growth without asking taxpayers to fund an additional tax?" Councilman Bob Weiner asked. "Our concern is even heightened by the fact the state Legislature hasn't faced its own responsibilities and is looking to local government to balance the budget."

 

New Castle County adds 15 officers

 Xerxes Wilson, The News Journal 8:34 p.m. EST December 8, 2015

New Castle County increased its police force by 15 officers Tuesday night, though some County Council members questioned how government will pay for the officers moving forward.

A $1.8 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will cover just over 40 percent of the cost for the officers until  2018. On Tuesday, County Council passed a measure to cover the rest of the cost for this year, $367,000, through reserves set aside for the police department.

The difference not covered by the grant will be calculated into the police department budget in coming years. The cost to taxpayers is set to grow to $1.2 million in the last six months of the grant if a six-month extension is allowed. Lawmakers will then have to find a way to cover the $1.6 million annual cost once the grant expires. Concerns about where that money would come from led Councilwoman Lisa Diller to amend the legislation to limit the increase in force to the grant period.

Following the amendment, the plan passed unanimously.

The increase brings the total authorized police force to 395. Police Chief Elmer Setting said the extra officers are needed to keep crime rates on their downward trajectory. Setting said crime rates have dropped 20 percent across the board over the past three years after police reprioritized how officers were deployed to target so-called quality of life crimes.

"The problem is a 10 gallon bucket holds 10 gallons of water. I only have this many officers and once we have deployed every single one to an operational capacity, this is as good as it is going to get," Setting said.

Councilman Bill Bell, who represents the fast-growing southern part of the county, said his area needs more officers.

"As we go forward, I wouldn’t have a problem finding money three years from now," Bell said, later adding: "As we build out in the central core you are going to see an increase in the need of police services."

Some council members warned about potential cuts to county revenues by the General Assembly. The state is facing a $160 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. This follows intense budget wrangling in the most recent General Assembly that produced a failed proposal to take about $10 million in recurring revenue from New Castle County's coffers to help the state balance its budget.

Because it is one of the largest areas of county spending, the police force will likely be one of the first targets if budget cuts are mandated by state action. The county's Public Safety Department, which includes emergency response and policing, accounts for 40 percent of county government workers. Police operations are under the Public Safety Department and include $47.5 million in government salaries and benefits for this fiscal year. Since 2013, police officer staffing has been increased twice. One increase added five positions permanently. The other added five temporarily.

"What happens when the grant runs out, will we be able to sustain this growth without asking taxpayers to fund an additional tax?" Councilman Bob Weiner asked. "Our concern is even heightened by the fact the state Legislature hasn't faced its own responsibilities and is looking to local government to balance the budget."

Diller said adding a time limit on the legislation will give the county time to find ways to fund the full cost of the officers when the grant expires.

Setting said 84 officers will be eligible for retirement in coming years, which could impact the budget issues.

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or xwilson@delawareonline.com. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.

 

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