WATERLOO — The search for budget cuts has prompted Councilman Steve Schmitt to consider the use of cross-trained public safety officers.
Schmitt broached the idea Saturday as Waterloo City Council members kicked off an all-day budget work session by reviewing the police and fire rescue budgets.
He said he was disappointed city department heads tasked with preparing impact statements on reducing property taxes responded with staff-reduction scenarios.
“How about a little bit more creative and out-of-the-box thinking,” said Schmitt, who said Waterloo should consider the model in Cedar Falls where public safety officers — police officers trained to assist on fire calls — are replacing firefighters.
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Schmitt also talked about hiring more volunteer reserve cops and looking at a joint metropolitan area police force.
“Have you looked at other things that will continue to allow you to offer the same level of service to the cities, which is what we all want, but at a lower expense?” Schmitt said.
“We’re going to have less money to work with this year unless we’re going to have an extraordinary tax increase on our citizens, which I’m not interest in supporting,” he said.
Capt. Joe Leibold, who was presenting the police budget, and Fire Chief Pat Treloar said they’d both looked at the public safety officer model but did not believe it was right for Waterloo.
“Our department is extremely busy,” Leibold said. “We handle about six calls for service an hour. We write one report an hour. We make one arrest every two hours.
“My fear would be that our resources, if the fire department was counting on them, would simply not be available,” he added. “My other concern with that is I don’t have an electrician do my plumbing.”
Treloar said Waterloo Fire Rescue said his research into public safety officers found departments using them are either in Michigan or generally smaller than Waterloo. Larger Iowa cities, including Dubuque, Sioux City and Davenport, do not use cross-trained police officers on fire calls.
Waterloo also provides advance life support ambulance services, which Cedar Falls does not, Treloar added.
Councilman Pat Morrissey was not in favor of joint public safety officers.
“I’m against cross-training from everything I’ve ever read,” Morrissey said. “We have a large community that needs to have the dedicated people like you and (Police Chief Dan) Trelka have put together.”
The discussion came as council members began departmental budget reviews, which included impact statements on both 2.5 percent and 5 percent tax cut scenarios. A drop in the tax base coupled with potential lost state revenue has the city looking at either budget cuts or a property tax increase for the coming fiscal years.(tncms-asset)5f903740-ff9b-11e7-b490-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Liebold said a 2.5 percent cut in the police tax asking likely would mean cutting seven of the department’s 123 sworn officers, which would eliminate the Violent Crimes Apprehension Team and Safe Streets Task Force.
“They have proven extremely successful,” Liebold said of those units. “To date, almost 400 firearms (have been) taken out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. They’ve prevented shootings. … They are really dialed into the criminal culture at the street level.”
A 5 percent cut would cause the city to lose grant funding and result in the loss of 12 to 15 officers.
Treloar said further cuts to Waterloo Fire Rescue would lead to longer average response times for a department that is currently lagging about 30 seconds behind its four-minute average response goal.
“At the 2.5 percent we’re going to realize increased station closures,” said Treloar, adding a 5 percent cut likely would mean a permanent closure of Station No. 6 at Ansborough Avenue and Dixon Drive.
Council members also reviewed the Leisure Services Commission budget before breaking for lunch.
Leisure Services Director Paul Huting said the department was already losing revenue next year based on a new lease with the Waterloo Black Hawks at Young Arena and a continued decline in golf revenue and rounds played.
Councilwoman Margaret Klein questioned whether it was time for the city to consider selling one of its three golf courses and possibly shutting down one of its two swimming pools.
Council members are scheduled to continue reviewing departmental budgets Monday and Thursday. A public hearing to adopt a final budget and tax rate is tentatively slated for March 6.