By Jeanne Starmack
HUBBARD — The city’s four full-time police dispatchers have been given layoff notices because the police department doesn’t have enough money in its budget through the end of the year.
Safety Director Jan Bolchalk said she expected city council to transfer money to the police department to cover a $49,000 shortfall. But the city tabled the appropriation at its Monday meeting.
The $49,000 was taken out of the police budget to pay for repairs to the police department building after a lightning strike in September 2008 and an electrical fire this summer damaged equipment in the building, said Bolchalk.
Insurance payments are reimbursing for the damage — $18,900 was deposited into the city’s general fund last year, and the insurance company has assured the city the second payment of $30,000 is coming, she said.
Those insurance payments should be transferred from the general fund to the police budget, she said.
She is not sure if the $30,000 payment has been made yet, but even if it hasn’t been, the city has enough money in a contingency fund to transfer to the department, she said.
But because the council tabled the appropriation, Bolchalk said, she was forced to send layoff notices to the dispatchers. Their union contract requires a 30-day notice. She said she didn’t want to lay off any police officers.
The layoffs would be effective Nov. 23 and continue through Dec. 31.
She said dispatching services for the city will be through either Trumbull County 911 or Liberty. She said she is trying to find the best deal and expects the city will be given consideration over the cost because of the emergency situation.
Without the dispatcher, the police department will have to be closed to the public, she said. Inmates also will have to be housed at the Trumbull County Jail because they can’t be alone in the Hubbard police station.
It will take a police officer away from his other duties for four hours to take an inmate to Trumbull County for booking, she said.
Council had been considering an ordinance Monday to give the department $70,000, then decided it was only going to transfer the insurance reimbursement, Bolchalk said.
She said Patton Gilliland, finance committee chairman, then called for tabling the appropriation.
Council passed the motion to table it unanimously, Gilliland said. He has called a committee meeting for 10 a.m. Saturday.
He said he wants to discuss whether the insurance money is really coming and why the police department kept five sergeants over the last three years when a city ordinance allows only for four.
Gilliland said that three years ago, the city’s mayor promoted two sergeants when he should have promoted one.
After one of those officers retired, Bolchalk explained, another patrol officer wanted promoted and took the city to court when it wouldn’t give him the promotion.
The judge decided during that court case that the city’s ordinance allowed for four turn sergeants and a detective-sergeant, which the city had, she said.
The city recently rewrote the ordinance to call for three sergeants and a detective-sergeant, she said.
Council questioned Bolchalk and the law director at an Oct. 3 meeting about why there were still five sergeants in the department, said Gilliland.
The law director indicated that he would send a letter to Bolchalk saying she should demote a sergeant back to patrol officer.
Gilliland said he did not know if that had been done.
Bolchalk said she received the law director’s letter Oct. 13 and notified the sergeant he was demoted Friday.
Gilliland said a sergeant should have been demoted three years ago. “And they kept paying him.”
Bolchalk countered that the detective-sergeant handles an increasing caseload, and the police department needs four sergeants to fill 21 shifts a week.
She said that a patrol officer will fill in as a sergeant at 95 percent of a sergeant’s pay.
That will save the department $200 a month, she said. The department’s budget for this year was $1.5 million.