The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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June 27, 2013

Conneaut tussles with big police OT expense

CONNEAUT — Increased duties and a lack of personnel is prompting the Conneaut Police Department to rack up considerable overtime in 2013, city officials said.

So far this year, the city has spent $55,000 on overtime, Williams said this week. Some $74,000 was budgeted for the year, he said.

“We’re spending about $10,000 a month in overtime,” he said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, City Council approved a budget amendment that puts another $35,000 into the police overtime account. “Hopefully that gets us through the end of the year,” Williams said at the meeting.

The department is no stranger to hefty overtime numbers, Williams said. Some $93,000 was spent in 2011 and $89,000 last year, he said.

Too many duties and not enough people to perform them is one reason for the overtime cost, said Police Chief Charles Burlingham. The department has 16 officers (including the chief), one more than 2012 but down from the 22 it employed in 2000. The department has also lost support personnel, such as corrections officers, over the years, requiring police to handle more jail monitoring and inmate-related duties.

Coupled with the cuts in staff is a jump in routine calls for service, which averaged around 1,131 per officer last year, according to a report Burlingham compiled for council earlier this year. Extra patrols are needed community events, high school activities — even in the vicinity of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution — also add to the bill, as do clean-up of methamphetamine-making operations, according to Burlingham’s report.

Conneaut’s Fourth of July fireworks displays costs the city approximately $3,400 for crowd and traffic control, said City Manager Tim Eggleston.

Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch, at the Monday meeting, asked if overtime could be trimmed by boosting personnel. “Can we solve this problem by hiring two officers?” he said.

Doubtful, Williams said. Even when the department had additional officers, overtime still occurred, he said.

“(Extra help) probably would not curtail overtime,” Williams said.

Ward 4 Councilman Thomas Kozesky, a former Conneaut police officer, said there are too many variables at play that result in overtime expenses. Just one major incident on Interstate 90, for example, can hit the budget hard, he said.

“You’re not going to totally eliminate overtime,” Kozesky said.

Government programs that once helped communities obtain and finance police positions are basically defunct, meaning communities must handle the problem themselves, council learned.

“We’ll ask council to look at (police overtime) during the budget process,” Eggleston said.

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