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Split Newport City Council denies request for eighth police officer

The Newport Police Department will not get funding to add another police officer to its force, at least not this year.

The City Council, in a 3-2 vote last week, shut down talks to hire an eighth full-time police officer yet this year, and held off deciding whether to budget for one in the upcoming fiscal year.

City Administrator Deb Hill said there were too many unknown financial variables that would affect the city’s current operating budget. According to preliminary figures, the cost of hiring a full-time officer is roughly $85,000, excluding other yearly expenses such as equipment and ammunition, training and uniforms.

With a 2014 public safety budget of $882,000, which includes $43,000 for a new squad car, Hill said hiring an additional officer this year would raise the general levy.

“I think the largest part of this is that we don’t know the tax implications that it would have,” she said.

Hill added that a large, unplanned spike in the city’s 2014 budget could reflect poorly when going through the upcoming bond rating process for the issuance of street improvement bonds.

With no additional funding available to bring in another officer, the city eyed the Economic Development Authority’s coffers. However, an opinion issued by Ehlers, a finance advisory firm, said that EDA dollars must only be used for property acquisition and for public improvements for the Newport Transit Station.

Even if the city were able to pull money from the EDA fund, Mayor Tim Geraghty said it would only be a temporary fix and would not address the issue long-term.

“These guys are overworked, let’s be honest,” City Council member Tom Ingemann said of Newport police officers.

Ingemann, who voted with council member Steve Gallagher to approve the hiring this year, said the added police calls warrant an additional officer.

“We should take our (community service officer) and bring him in (as a) full-time (officer),” Ingemann said. “It’s not that much more.”

However, Geraghty said without a CSO, code enforcement would get sidelined.

Police Chief Curt Montgomery said his department is able to handle the current workload, but said adding to his seven-man roster would be beneficial.

“We understand that the budget is in their hands,” he said. “Our department does a really good job right now and we have some of the highest clearance rates in the metro. But another officer would help us do more proactive policing.”

The City Council tabled discussions for now but is expected to resume talks with the police department later this summer when budgeting for 2015 begins.