Friday, April 20, 2012
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2012-13 city budget holds no money for police cars

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[April 20, 2012]  Lincoln aldermen spent two Saturday mornings in March shuffling through dozens of pieces of paper and literally millions of dollars in projected expenses for the 2012-13 budget year.

As they struggled through some of the tough choices that come with being in a cash-strapped economy, it became apparent that not every department was going to get everything they felt they needed in order to operate in the coming year.

Each budget year, the city does the best it can to provide the city police department with the equipment it needs to maintain patrols. In the current budget year, the department added a new squad car and purchased two used SUVs.

During the budget workshops Ken Greenslate, chief of police, asked for just under $71,000 for the purchase of squad cars, $9,750 for new computers, $14,375 for radios and $5,200 for radar for the new budget year. In addition he asked for another $9,000 for personal equipment for officers.

When this came up in discussion, Alderwoman Melody Anderson asked if no new vehicles were purchased in the new year, how much of the other costs would also go away. Greenslate said the personal equipment for officers was the only expense not related to the squad cars.

However, he also said he felt that without the new vehicles, there was still a need for at least some new computers for the existing squads. He explained that the onboard computers the city owns now are becoming obsolete. They are also aging. He indicated that while he could do without vehicles for the next year, he felt replacing some of the old computers was important.

Anderson explained why she was asking, saying: "I'm not picking on your department, but we've done a really good job of keeping cars flowing in the police department. I realize we can't compare apples to apples with the fire department because when we replace one of their vehicles it is huge dollars, but we have serious issues with fire equipment, and I'm a little reluctant to drop $100,000 into three new vehicles when we could make a down payment on a fire truck."

In the Lincoln Fire Department one new truck was purchased in 2009. Other than that, the majority of the vehicles used for actual firefighting are very old, and for the most part, getting to the point of being worn out. This is evidenced in the dollars being invested each year in repairs and maintenance of the equipment.

Anderson said that if the $100,000 requested by the police department was forgone for this year, that money could be earmarked as part of a down payment for new fire apparatus.

As the council talked about this, it was noted that the last vehicle purchased for the fire department cost in excess of $500,000. The city used money out of the general obligation bond for a down payment and financed the balance.

If the city would approve new vehicles for the police department, those purchases would come from the general obligation bond as capital equipment expenses.

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When this fiscal year ends, the city will have approximately $400,000 remaining in the bond. Previously they had discussed that the bond is good for two more years, so the maximum they should spend out of it in the new fiscal year would be $200,000. Buying and equipping three squad cars would take half of that amount. On the other hand, using the general obligation bond to make a reasonable down payment on a new fire truck would more than likely use the entire $200,000.

As discussions continued at the budget workshop meetings, most seemed to agree that the police department could go one year without new vehicles. However Alderman David Wilmert was not so sure.

He noted to the council that the department puts their vehicles to a lot of use. "They wear out cars like we wear out socks," he said.

Though he wasn't keen on giving up all three cars, Wilmert was adamant that the department should still be allowed to buy new computers for the existing cars. He told the council his feeling was that the police department should have the newest and the best equipment available.

He said he felt like if the department had to do without the vehicles, they should certainly be allowed the $9,750 for the purchase of some new computers.

At the most recent voting session of the Lincoln City Council, the "tentative final budget" was released for the aldermen to review. The voting session was adjourned and will resume next Tuesday prior to the workshop meeting. Aldermen will then vote on the budget before them.

A review of the documents shows that the city police department will be allowed $10,000 out of the general obligation bond for capital equipment expense. There is nothing in the bond for new police vehicles, nor is there anything for a new fire truck.

However, instead of spending a full $200,000 out of the bond money in the new year, the bottom line figure is only $111,750. If this figure holds through the voting process, this could indicate there will be money available in the 2013-14 budget year for a down payment on a new fire truck.


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