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Flint, MI— During the Flint City Council budget hearings on Wednesday, the Police Chief and the Fire Chief both prioritized filling positions for their departments above all else.
The meeting on April 14 was one of four hearings to discuss the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal years with the heads of each department. In the proposed budget for FY 2022, Public Safety (Police and Fire departments) account for 59% of the budgeted General Fund expenditures.
Police Chief Terence Green said that currently, there are 22 full time officer positions that are unfilled, although he is anticipating that four new hires will start within the next week, which would bring that number down to 18. For FY 2022 and 2023, the proposed budget funds 118 full-time police officer positions, 8 part-time police officer positions, 24 full-time civilian positions, and 38 part-time civilian positions.
Fire Chief Raymond Barton said while they have some people about to graduate from the fire academy, they’ve recently had five firefighters leave the department for various reasons. He said the department has job postings out now to try to keep all 83 funded positions filled. This is the same number of positions allotted for FY 2022 and 2023 in the proposed budget.
Understaffing has been an issue for a long time, and it was part of the City’s three-part crime plan to hire more officers and make the positions more attractive. One way of doing that was to increase officer salary. According to the budget, the new union contract for the police department included a 2.8% increase in wages, and represented the first salary increase for captains and lieutenants in six years.
At the meeting, Green said the pay for a full-time police officer just starting is $19 an hour.
“I would like to see an increase in our hourly salary to make us a lot more competitive to our surrounding agencies within this region,” Green said.
Barton said hourly for firefighters is about $10, but that because they work more hours than most regular employees, their annual salary is about $27,000. He said many people will get trained in Flint, then find jobs in other cities where they can get better pay, which is a problem the police department has experienced too.
He said he believed an increase in pay would help attract firefighters in some cases, but in others, he said people just want to go back to work where they’re from. The pandemic has also made people wary of going into this profession, Barton said.
But crime and fire rates aren’t going down.
Barton said the fire department is responding to 10-12 fires each week, and without an arson investigator, dealing with suspicious fires has been especially challenging. He said the state was going to station an arson investigator in Flint, and that he and Chief Green are working to put an arson investigation team back together.
Council President Kate Fields mentioned another service she’d like to see the City do themselves again too– 911.
“I’d like to revisit the idea of what it would cost us, and I know, we’ve gone back and forth many times, but, you know, we went back to the county system, with the promises that they could offer more and a better service, but some of their policies… I have not been happy with,” Fields said. “The 911 response, and how they talk to people and whether they respond, whether they even contact the Flint police department.”
Green didn’t say whether or not he was in favor of that switch, but he did share some of his goals for the future of the department, including implementing community policing.
“I’m a large supporter of community policing activities, but that’s dependent on our staffing,” Green said.
With enough officers, Green said he would like to reopen the police mini stations and have a community police officer stationed at each one.
Councilman Eric Mays asked Green and Barton their thoughts on potentially using the $99 million of federal COVID-19 relief coming to the City of Flint for public safety purposes.
Green said he could “always use additional dollars for…technology, cameras, things of that nature.”
He said they have recently purchased a specialized camera to deal with blight issues. That camera alone was $12,000. In the future, he sees a need for additional vehicles as new officers are hired on, more cameras, and other things. But for now, he says the proposed budget for his department, which allots $28,054,004 in expenditures for FY 2022, and $29,891,102 for FY 2023, is adequate.
“As long as this budget satisfies us filling our vacant positions and those positions of employees that are retiring, as far as personnel, I’m satisfied,” Green said.
Barton said with this budget, they are mostly just trying to maintain the 83 positions the department is funded for, and potentially start looking into new backup trucks as the current ones “have been reaching their limit.”
The proposed budget gives the Fire Department $13,822,374 in expenditures for FY 2022, and $15,050,142 for FY 2023.
Mays said he would look into the pricing of getting more technology for fire and police stations, and see if those things could be worked into their budgets.