Update after press time: The City Council put the item on its agenda Sept. 2 and voted 6-1 to approve the the Everett COPS grant. See next week's Tribune for the story.
declines grant that would pay for up to 16 police officers
EVERETT — A majority of City Council members declined to accept a $6 million federal grant to hire up to 16 more officers that Everett Police won.
For most council members, it wasn’t in opposition to hiring more officers. They objected to the strings attached in the grant that could have future budget implications: It commits the city to keep paying for each hired officer with the grant money for 12 months after the position’s grant funding runs out after three years.
The department’s base pay for patrol officers ranges from $75,264 for a rookie to $98,641 for someone with experience. The grant doesn’t require hiring a set number of officers, but it would have given Everett Police the opportunity to do so. The begin dates for the hires can be staggered out.
But the city is grappling with a long-range budget deficit and has cut so many city services elsewhere today, so how could they authorize committing to more spending down the road, council members said.
The council didn’t take a vote on accepting the grant. The stonewall was “a complete surprise,” Mayor Cassie Franklin told the Tribune.
The deadline to accept the grant is Sept. 8. The council’s next meeting on Sept. 2 is a special workshop on the budget. Update:**On Sept. 1, an action item about the grant was put onto the agenda.
Franklin said it’s up to the council if it wants to set an emergency meeting for a vote.
Council members hesitated last week because of Everett’s broader financial picture.
“The timing is such a huge, huge challenge,” Council President Judy Tuohy said, adding that “I am concerned we can’t really afford this at this time.”
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said she felt “it is irresponsible to approve this grant that has this big balloon payment at the end” considering that “other services in the community have been slashed away.”
Council members Paul Roberts and Scott Murphy also gave concern on the long-term budget effects from the grant.
At the Aug. 26 meeting, Councilman Scott Bader made the motion to authorize the grant. Five of his council colleagues did not give a second, a procedural nod to advance to a vote, so it died. (A seventh council member, Jeff Moore, had expressed support to take the grant, but left the daytime council meeting because of other obligations and didn’t get to participate in deliberations on the grant.)
Franklin and the police department considered the U.S. Department of Justice C.O.P.S. grant a big win for Everett.
Police Chief Dan Templeman wanted to assign the additional officers to enlarge the bicycle patrol unit to a citywide presence and also add more resources into patrol and the traffic safety unit.
Doubling the size of the bicycle unit “would have allowed us to extend these valuable community policing patrols into our neighborhoods,” Templeman said by email to the Tribune Monday, Aug. 31.
Franklin said this would have been able to “give the officers the community is asking for.”
Templeman said that without additional officers, the department can’t pull officers from elsewhere to still increase the size of its bicycle patrol unit. “Right now, EPD currently experiences challenges keeping up with the demands for service as it is.”
The department is budgeted for 206 commissioned officers, of which 164 are rank-and-file officers, 26 are sergeants, eight are lieutenants and four are captains.
There are vacancies in the department, but it has worked to close the gap with an aggressive hiring effort that includes offering hiring bonuses for lateral officers from other departments.
Templeman mentioned the hiring program has added more officers who are people of color. Franklin said the grant program could have aided with diversifying its officer pool.
The Department of Justice waived the city from matching any of the pay during the grant period.
Franklin said that because of the matching requirements on the city, “the cost to the city really is the equipment — the uniform, bicycle, body cameras.”
Council members drew from figures on auxiliary costs that indicate the costs to the city for taking the grant. Adding the officers would total $8.5 million in additional costs to the city over a six-year period that are not covered by the grant, says a letter (link to letter) to the public signed by Council Public Safety Subcommittee Chair Brenda Stonecipher and Council Budget Subcommittee Chair Scott Murphy.
Templeman expressed disappointment on the matter.
“I saw this as a great opportunity for the police department to add much-needed community resources, while simultaneously improving our ability to respond to concerns that I have heard expressed by Everett residents and businesses for years,” Templeman said. “While I clearly recognize the budget challenges the city is facing both today and in the coming years, I also saw this grant as an opportunity to grow our police department while leveraging federal dollars to do so.”
Franklin said that overall, “the question is does the city need more officers or not, and I would argue we need more people in all (city) departments.”
The current revenue model is broken, Franklin said. She believes some proposals that shift city operations, such as forming a voter-approved parks tax or reforming the city’s fire department as a separate taxing fire district, are steps toward this end. The ideas were discussed in February.
Councilwoman Liz Vogeli stated some of her concerns on how the money won’t alleviate homelessness. The grant cannot be used for adding police social workers.
Templeman responded at the meeting that the added officers wouldn’t solve homelessness, but would provide a greater presence that reduces crimes.
The Everett Police Officers Association union’s president, Everett Police Sgt. James Collier, shamed the council on KIRO 97.3 FM’s Dori Monson show for not taking a vote: “When (council members) wouldn’t take it to a vote, I think it was a pretty clear message to us — the taxpayers, the public — that they didn’t want this grant.”
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