WEST ALEXANDRIA — Village Council voted to increase the police department’s budget and approved pay raises for Fire and EMS department personnel during its final monthly meeting of 2020 on Monday, Dec. 21.
Police Chief Tony Gasper addressed council about his department’s proposed 2021 budget during a pair of special meetings held Nov. 19 and Nov. 30. The current planned budget of $220,000 would be a drastic reduction from the department’s 2020 budget of $272,000. Gasper said that such a decrease would compromise his ability to provide 24/7 police coverage.
Councilmember Zach Shafer, who was not present for Monday’s meeting, had earlier suggested making cuts to the village’s yearly appropriation of $31,000 for the Columbus-based firm which provides its legal representation.
Councilmember Dan Utsinger reiterated that suggestion during the Dec. 21 meeting, moving that legal appropriations be reduced to $23,000.
“That would save $8,000 that we could transfer to the police budget,” Utsinger said. “I’d rather pinch pennies from a guy in Columbus than our local police department.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the measure.
Village Fire and EMS Chief Tom Smith asked for a pay raise for his department’s employees. Medics working for the village currently make $11 per hour, according to Smith, while advanced EMTs make $9 and EMT Basics make $8. The proposed raise would increase each of these figures by $2 per hour.
Utsinger asked if the village’s fire and EMS salaries were currently at the high or low end of the pay scale for similar departments in Preble County.
“If we’re not at the bottom, we’re circling very close to it,” Smith said, indicating the proposed pay raise would only be a first step toward correcting this.
Smith also stated that the department receives fewer unpaid volunteers than in years past.
“The days of volunteerism are going out, and we’re going to have to do something about that,” Smith said. “People just don’t volunteer like they used to.”
Councilmember Holly Robbins agreed.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; I’d rather be in front of this 8-ball than behind it,” Robbins said.
Smith also stressed that Fire and EMS funding comes from a different source than the police department budget, which is drawn from the village’s general appropriations fund.
Council president Ashley Myers moved to proceed with the requested pay raises. The measure was approved by unanimous vote.
Village Administrator Adam Beneke proposed a two-percent cost of living increase for all village employees. Employees received a previous cost of living increase in April 2020. Council members Robbins and Shannon Smith came out in support of the request.
“We used to budget a three-percent increase per year,” Robbins said. “Maybe we can get back to that.”
Utsinger was reluctant, however, saying he wanted to see figures on the proposed pay increases. Council ultimately moved to table the issue until January.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish