WSAZ | Charleston, West Virginia | News

Charleston Council Approves Plan to Reduce Police Department Staffing

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

UPDATE 2/6/12 @ 11:25 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Charleston City Council moved ahead Monday with plans to cut the number of positions at the Police Department.

During Monday night's meeting, council members approved a plan to cut the number of positions at the department by 10.

Those jobs are already unfilled, so no one will lose his or her job.

Police Chief Brent Webster says the cuts will not hurt response times, but he does expect cutbacks to programs aimed at preventing crime.

Not all city council members, though, approve of the plan.

City leaders say the cuts are needed because of the massive pension debt the city is facing.

In other business during Monday's meeting, Council approved the purchase of more than a dozen city vehicles, including some for the Metro Drug Unit.

They are also buying 10 new vehicles for several city departments, two dump trucks for the street department, two garbage packer trucks and a street sweeper.

The total amount of money approved on the new vehicles is about $1 million.



ORIGINAL STORY 2/2/12
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Mayor Danny Jones (R) says Thursday a plan has been put together to cut 10 positions at the city’s police department.

The department is budgeted for 173 positions, says Chief Brent Webster. Currently, 162 people work for the department. If the cuts are approved by the city council, the department will be allowed to have 163 employees on the payroll.

Recent cuts in the city’s fire department have been a major source of tension, sparking protests and threats of a lawsuit.

Webster believes the cuts proposed for his department are manageable. However, they will lead to structural changes.

"Our first priority is 911 call taking," Webster said.

He says any changes made within the department will not impact the number of officers on patrol or responding to emergencies. Rather, he says the cuts could impact the proactive programs the department has aimed at things such as crime prevention.

Mayor Jones said these latest cuts are part of an effort to confront the city's massive pension debt.

"Any money we can save, we need to save it," Jones said.

City Manager David Molgaard says long-term, the city has about $250 million to account for.

When asked whether he thought the city was getting a grip on the pension problem, Jones said no. He added that the next 35 years will be difficult for the city.

A few years ago, the city pushed to increase the user fee to pay for police officers and pave roads.

"While the costs escalate for the police officer, we need to continually try to go to try to obtain the money to pay for it," Jones said at the time.

Now, Jones says that amount is still not enough to offset rising costs.

"It's still paying for police officers. The only problem is the cost of police officers has gotten so much higher," says Jones.

He adds there are no plans to raise fees or taxes to handle this problem.

That leaves the police department the challenge of cutting back without cutting corners on safety.

Chief Webster says, "Maybe it's going to be one less bike team. Maybe it's going to be one less detective. But, we can handle it and make sure that our patrol division is sufficiently staffed to be able to handle the 911 calls."

City council members will consider the cuts at a meeting Monday. If approved, they will take effect immediately.

City Manager David Molgaard estimates the cuts will save the city about $400,000 in the next fiscal year.


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