LIMA — After a year of cuts and attrition, the City of Lima is looking to increase its staff of police officers and firefighters to pull down overtime spending and improve public services.
During Lima City Council’s finance committee budget hearing held Wednesday night, safety service chiefs discussed the need for the positions after a hiring freeze initiated in wake of the coronavirus pandemic has kept each department from having full staffs.
As Police Chief Kevin Martin explained, prior to March the Lima Police Department had requested a budget for 86 police officers, but attrition throughout last year has depleted the number on staff down to 73 officers in total by September.
“We found ourselves in September down to 73 officers. While that was taking place, we also experienced significant increases in violent crime, as other cities have had,” Martin said.
In total, the police department was involved in 12 homicide investigations in 2020 alone. Additional increases in violent crime and overdoses also stretched the department thin as the city tried to keep staffing levels low to deal with decreases in revenue.
To address that issue, Martin requested the city budget allow the police department to replace those positions lost to attrition as well as hire six new officers over the first half of the year. Three would be hired within the next three months, and another three during the second quarter.
Martin noted that even with the approved hires it may be some time before the positions are filled. He said a typical training period for a new officer can last six to 12 months, depending on if they still need to be certified as a peace officer. He also expressed worries that officer positions will be harder to fill as renewed media focus on officers has made people more reluctant to jump into the career.
If the positions are filled, Martin said the department would re-institute its Community-Oriented Policing program, which had been reduced in 2020, as well as fill the city’s Safety City position, which had been cut.
Similarly, the Lima Fire Department is asking for six new firefighters in the same time period, as well as the replacement of four people due to attrition. Fire Chief Andy Heffner said with a reduced staff, firefighters have had to work extra days of overtime — sometimes between 24-hour shifts — in order to make due and respond to the department’s increased call volume.
The addition of more people would also help diminish overtime payments for the department. In 2020, the department paid out over $740,000 in overtime. For the 2021 budget, Heffner is looking to cut that number in half.
“Personnel, for us, drives and solves all of our problems,” Heffner said. “If we get more people, it helps with overtime and gives us a bit of relief for our firefighters.”
Lima City Council is scheduled to continue its budget talks Thursday night and officially pass the 2021 budget sometime in February.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.