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Oak Harbor department heads plead for new hires

Oak Harbor’s police chief wants five additional officers, the fire chief wants four new firefighters and the city administrator wants his own administrative assistant.

Wednesday, Oak Harbor officials made their opening salvos in the city’s process of developing a biennium budget by presenting council members with funding requests.

The process is somewhat different this year in that council members will hear the requests and do goal setting before a two-year revenue estimate is developed, according to Finance Director Doug Merriman.

While he won’t have the projections completed until the end of July, Merriman said revenues appear to be strong.

Sales tax receipts are “a little sporadic,” but average around a 3 to 6 percent increase each month compared to the same month last year.

Mayor Scott Dudley said he hopes the exercise will help council members to set priorities.

“This is just the infancy stage of the budget process,” he said.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green admitted that he was “reaching for the stars” in requesting an additional police sergeant and four more patrol officers.

The total cost in salaries and benefits would be about $485,000 a year.

“It may not be an overnight thing,” he said. “I get that.”

During an interview, Green explained that he would like another sergeant position to oversee his new community service department, which includes the community service officer, the animal control officer, the school officer and the traffic control officer.

In addition, he would like to see another patrol officer in each of the four patrol squads.

Statistics from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for 2013 show that the Oak Harbor Police Department has about the average number of commissioned officers per 1,000 population when compared to other cities with populations between 10,000 and 25,000.

Oak Harbor’s rate of commissioned officers is 1.45 while the average is 1.44. Oak Harbor has a population of 22,000 and 32 officers.

Yet Green said he recently applied for COPS grants and learned that the federal government considers his officers are actually policing a population of 37,000 to 40,000, when the Navy base, the schools and tourists passing through are considered.

Under that population, the rate of commissioned officers falls far below average.

Likewise, Fire Chief Ray Merrill requested two new career firefighters to start in 2015 and another to come on in 2016.

Each additional firefighter would cost $90,000 a year in salaries and benefits.

Merrill pointed out that the department has had the same 10 career positions since 1997, while call volumes increased by 26 percent and the rate of fire inspections increased by 69 percent since that time.

He warned that response times are going to drop below the four or five minute threshold if he doesn’t get more help.

City Administrator Larry Cort said he would like to have an executive assistant. That position and four others remain on the staffing chart but weren’t filled in order to balance the budget two years ago.

Dudley said filling the position should be one of the top priorities.

 

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