Safer cities come with price tag

Two communities are considering hiring more emergency workers next year.

Greenwood is looking at hiring three firefighters and three police officers. Franklin wants to hire one police officer.

But before that can happen, city officials have to approve spending the money on the new positions. In Greenwood, that likely would require cutting other spending.

City officials say both the police and fire departments need to add staff because of growth. Both departments also continue to have significantly fewer employees than federal recommendations.

With the city growing, the police force should grow along with it, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said. With more businesses opening in downtown Franklin and with more growth along East King Street in the future, the city will need more officers to respond to calls at those businesses, he said.

In Greenwood, the police chief and deputy chief assist with traffic stops, emergencies and other runs. And the fire department has struggled to fill part-time positions and hopes to convert some of those to full-time instead.

Whether the new positions are approved will be decided this fall. City officials are finalizing their budgets to present to city council members. Any new positions approved would be added next year.

Earlier this year, Greenwood asked state lawmakers to allow it to charge a 1 percent food and beverage tax, which would have helped fund public safety, but it was not approved.

Without new funding, officials have proposed making cuts in other areas to afford the new positions.

The Greenwood Fire Department wants to convert six part-time positions into three full-time positions, which would add one person on a shift for 24 hours, rather than two part-time firefighters on 12-hour shifts, Greenwood Fire Chief James Sipes said. The city struggles to keep part-time positions filled because those firefighters often seek full-time work in a community with open positions, he said.

In order to add officers, the Greenwood Police Department cut a full-time custodian position, reduced a full-time clerk position to part-time and reduced holiday pay, Greenwood Police Chief John Laut said.

“We’re adding more public safety personnel to be on the road whether it’s police or fire, but it’s really cutting from some areas to put that money towards salaries. We just don’t have the financing,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said. “It won’t cut our shortage, but it puts a small dent into it.”

Greenwood has fewer officers per capita than the Midwest average and has added only one police officer position in the past 15 years, Laut said.

In 2014, the Greenwood department had almost 27,000 emergency runs, an average of about 73 per day, Laut said.

What that means is when a resident requests an officer do an extra patrol of a neighborhood, such as after a theft or criminal mischief incident, the department might not be able to send someone, Laut said.

“When you have extra officers or more manpower, you can do things like extra patrol. I have to tell people we’ll do the best we can. But the reality is, we may be able to get an officer to a neighborhood for extra patrol, but then he’s pulled out on a run,” he said.

But hiring an officer costs more than just the person’s salary, Laut said.

Currently, the police department has enough vehicles to provide three new officers with police cars. A new police car would cost nearly $33,000. In addition, the department would spend $3,000 to $5,000 for weapons, bulletproof vests and other equipment, such as a Taser, per officer.

The same is true for firefighters. After the $50,000 salary, plus pension and benefits, the cost for three new firefighters comes to almost $300,000, or $100,000 per position, Sipes said.

The department will spend almost the same adding three full-time positions as they would have by keeping the six part-time positions, Sipes said.

“I would like to see more than three per year. Three helps, but we’re already behind,” Sipes said. “We’re very fortunate the city recognized a need to do this. We just need to keep the same pace.”

Author photo
Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.