In a 5-2 decision, Ellwood City borough council voted to hire a full-time probationary patrol officer at its meeting on Monday. A candidate has not yet been selected and hiring is contingent upon successful completion of all background checks and certifications.
The motion was initially proposed in March by council member Marilyn Mancini, supported by Judi Dici. The two convinced council to suspend a motion to advertise for part-time officers in favor of researching hiring a full-time officer. The motion was added to the agenda at the agenda meeting on April 11.
Dici and Mancini both believe a full-time officer will cut down on overtime rates. According to information obtained in a Right to Know request with the Ellwood City Borough, police overtime expenses in 2015 were $166,300.77. According to numbers read by Dici, overtime costs for January through March were $42,606.84. Dici said a new police officer costs around $90,000 per year, including benefits.
Dici and Mancini were joined in a majority vote by Brad Ovial, Michelle Lamenza and George Celli. Mayor Anthony J. Court and Lt. David Kingston, the police department’s ranking officer, have also stated they are in favor of hiring a full-time officer.
Ovial later commented that it seemed “the experiment with part-time officers wasn’t currently working.”
Casting a dissenting vote, Council President Connie MacDonald stated that full-time employee benefits are an enormous cost to the borough, especially the retirement benefits.
After the meeting, MacDonald said that an audit report currently being finalized gave a preliminary borough liability of approximately $2 million for what was defined as “other post-employment benefits” for existing and retired police officers. The borough provides full health benefits for officers until they reach 65 and after that, supplemental benefits.
MacDonald cited a figure of $6,619.42 from April’s list of pre-paid vouchers as an example of such health benefit costs.
“When we hire a full-time officer, we become burdened with these costs for life,” MacDonald said. In a previous meeting, MacDonald stated that he believed part-time officers would reduce overtime if properly scheduled.
Vice-President David DeCaria joined MacDonald, also citing the costs of benefits.
“Whether we can afford a police department in the future is on the line,” DeCaria said, adding that he didn’t believe a full-time officer would negate enough overtime to compensate for the salary.
“It’s a waste of tax payer money,” DeCaria said. “The person who makes the schedule is the one who makes the most overtime.”
As senior officer, Kingston does have first pick for overtime in specific situations per police contract. “It’s like letting the fox into the hen house with a hibachi,” DeCaria said.
Current part-time patrol officer Richard Kruger has already completed some of the requirements to become a full-time officer. In January, part-time officer Jonathan Fauzey was hired as a full-timer. If Kruger is hired, the department will no longer have part-time officers.
Correction, 8:30 a.m. April 21: The borough provides full health benefits for officers until they reach 65 and after that, supplemental benefits. [The adjective “full” was omitted, implying that the supplemental benefits aren’t health related.]