By Rob Tucker
The Tacoma News Tribune
FIRCREST, Wa. — Fircrest, a tight-knit, law-and-order community, might lose a police officer to balance the city’s 2008 budget.
City Manager Bill Brandon said the city has nine police officer positions, but one isn’t currently filled. Citing declining tax revenues, he proposes to drop the unfilled position to save up to $90,000 to help balance next year’s budget.
The position recently had been filled for a few months, Brandon said.
The proposal to cut a cop isn’t sitting well with the police chief and some City Council members. The seven-member council must approve the budget, including the proposed reduction in police.
Longtime Mayor David Viafore, who barely kept his council seat after a close election this fall, said he’s identifying ways to keep police staffed up. He said other departments should be examined for possible cuts to keep police at current levels.
“Law enforcement is a true necessity in Fircrest,” he said. “It protects the quality of life we have.”
But Councilman Hans Hechtman said the city has revenue problems that it must confront.
“We’re faced with shortfalls,” he said.
He said the targeted police position was created two years ago in anticipation of population and commercial growth that hasn’t occurred at the expected rate.
Some residents see their small city as a safe island of quiet neighborhoods surrounded by two urban centers with more crime problems, Tacoma and University Place. They support Fircrest police in their efforts to keep down speeding and other traffic violations, even though some outsiders see Fircrest as a speed trap.
At least one resident isn’t too worried.
“I don’t think it would kill us to lose a policeman,” said Kris Quinn. “We have plenty of traffic cops out there.”
Police Chief John Cheesman said reducing an officer position would mean slower responses and more shifts with just one officer on duty. He said “my worst nightmare,” could occur if the only officer is on an emergency call and another emergency crops up.
University Place or Tacoma police provide backup, but both must answer their own calls first. Tacoma’s not on the same radio frequency as Fircrest police, so communication is slower.
The chief said Fircrest police staffing is below the average police-to-residents ratio for Washington cities of Fircrest’s size (5,000 to 10,000 in population). The statewide average is 1.93 officers per 1,000 residents, he said, citing estimates by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
If 6,270-resident Fircrest drops a cop, its ratio will fall from 1.6 to 1.44, he said.
Brandon said the community encompasses only 1.5 square miles, so police emergency responses shouldn’t slow too much. He said declining revenues are a major concern. The proposed 2008 general operating fund of $8.17 million, which supports police, parks, planning and other city government services, is down $900,000 from this year. The 10 percent drop is mostly due to declining property and sales tax collections, Brandon said.
The city manager is proposing major budget cuts in the planning and building departments because of declining home building and other construction in the city. He said his budget proposes no employee layoffs.
Copyright 2007 The News Tribune
Wash. city facing budget crisis; may lose officer