Police, fire ponder possible 2012 budget cuts

October 16, 2011
photo - Mayor Steve Bach's proposals have received mixed reviews in public safety circles. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE
Mayor Steve Bach's proposals have received mixed reviews in public safety circles. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE 

For the first time in eight years, firefighters plan to break ground on a new fire station in Colorado Springs.

How they will staff it remains in question.

Public safety agencies in Colorado Springs face budget cuts in Mayor Steve Bach’s proposed 2012 budget, leaving staffing reductions, health care insurance increases and a continued pay freeze on the table, according to preliminary budget documents.

The Colorado Springs Police Department would lose the equivalent of nine-and-a-half full-time positions in 2012 under Bach’s plan, while the Fire Department would drop six-and-a-half positions, documents show.

Police and firefighters are being asked to shoulder more of their health-plan costs — a move that’s proven unpopular in the fourth year of frozen salaries. They would pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, up from 14 percent this year — a move that would save the city $539,000, according to budget documents.

The proposed budget cuts come amid a projected 0.5-percent drop in sales and use tax collections that could cost the city 37.5 positions, documents say. Bach proposed the budget earlier this month and it must be approved by City Council, a process expected to last several weeks.

Bach’s proposals have received mixed reviews in public safety circles.

“I’m all about looking for efficiencies as well,” said Jeremy Kroto, president of the local firefighters union. “My question that nobody’s really been able to answer yet is when do we reach the endgame with that, and when do we become — quote — efficient.”

The proposed Fire Station 21 could combat slower response times in eastern Colorado Springs.

When called to emergency scenes in downtown Colorado Springs, firefighters arrive within eight minutes 96.6 percent of the time. East of Powers Boulevard, that response benchmark drops to 74.4 percent.

Station 21’s planned location hasn’t been released.

Kroto said he’s been told the Fire Department is mulling two sites east of Powers. But he cautioned that the department needs to hire more firefighters before opening the new station.

Interim Fire Chief Richard Brown declined to comment on the 2012 budget proposal until he has had a chance to present it to City Council at a work session Tuesday.

Under Bach’s proposed budget, the Colorado Springs Police Department would cut two sergeant and two lieutenant positions, along with several civilian posts, including a handful of identification clerks and specialists.

The Police Department would add an officer, for a total of 514 officers. The department’s Public Safety Volunteer Program, staffed by a half-time employee, would grow to two and a half full-time positions.

Pete Tomitsch, president of the Police Protective Association, said he’s been told staff cuts would be made through attrition.

“Looking at the budget in general, everyone again is going to have to sacrifice even more,” Tomitsch said. “But I think they’re dividing it up equally and I think (interim police chief) Pete Carey’s already starting to get in front of the ball on how to implement some of the cuts.”

Sgt. Steve Noblitt, police spokesman, declined to discuss the budget, and Carey could not be reached for comment.

“Like I’ve told you before, your deadline isn’t our deadline,” said Noblitt, in a response to requests for 2012 staffing figures. “We’ve got things to do at the Police Department besides answer questions for The Gazette.”

Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654
Twitter: @jakobrodgers
Facebook: Jakob Rodgers

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