Not enough money?

Published 12:01 am Thursday, November 29, 2007

NATCHEZ — If the police department hires the police officers approved in Tuesday’s aldermen meeting, the city could not afford it, the city clerk said Wednesday.

The starting pay for an officer is $24,120, City Clerk Donnie Holloway said. With benefits, that totals $31,986.

The board voted Tuesday to approve hiring two more officers, bringing the number of allowed officers up from 48 to 50.

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The money to pay the officers will come out of the city’s general fund, which pays for city operations, Holloway said.

With sales taxes down 7 percent compared with the same time last year, the city’s budget is tight, he said.

Depending on what the future holds, the funds could come in later months.

“Hopefully, we will rebound on sales taxes. Hopefully, next year we will have two more (casino) boats and more ad valorem (property) taxes.

“Right now, if we had a full staff, and with last year’s raises, we couldn’t afford 50.”

When the city approved the across-the-board $2,700 raise for police and firefighters, the police station cut back from 50 to 48 officers, Police Chief Mike Mullins said.

With officers out for retirement, injuries and military service, the department rarely has a full staff.

“It takes 48 to do what we need to do,” Mullins said. “If they alot 50, we may actually have 48 working.”

The shortage means officers are not doing as much traffic enforcement or ongoing training as they need, he said.

In Tuesday’s meeting, aldermen suggested assigning administrative officers and investigators to patrol.

That wasn’t possible, Mullins said Wednesday. Under his administration, the police department has cut personnel and excess as much as possible, he said.

“We’ve cut and cut and cut,” he said. “There’s no slack in the station. There is no one in the station without a 40-hour job that has to be done.”

By adding officers, the department would likely be able to cut back on overtime, Mullins said.

“If we can get positions filled, I’m hoping we can stay well within our overtime budget, and I hope we can cut overtime some next year,” he said.