ATHENS — The City of Athens’ police and fire chiefs are asking for funding for additional personnel in the upcoming fiscal year to meet their needs in a growing community.
Those positions are not included in the proposed fiscal 2020 budget that was reviewed by City Council members during a work session Thursday. A vote on the budget could come at the council’s regular meeting Monday.
Merit increases of 3% for eligible employees are built into the budget, but not cost-of-living raises, according to City Clerk/Treasurer Annette Barnes.
Police Chief Floyd Johnson told the council he needs seven new patrol officers for the department in 2020.
“Public safety is No. 1,” he said. “People are not going to live in an unsafe city.”
There are currently 48 sworn officers, of which 36 are assigned to patrol, and the rest are in code enforcement, investigations and administration, Johnson said after the work session. There are two vacancies in patrol.
One applicant has been through the department’s background checks and is headed to Human Resources, where another applicant is already being processed.
Mayor Ronnie Marks said the total cost to add seven officers, including vehicles, salary and benefits, and training, would be about $700,000.
Athens officers go through an extensive training process, including the state police academy and the department’s own field training program, Johnson said.
According to Barnes, the Police Department has 60 employees in all, including dispatchers and administration, and 23 of those are “topped out” and won’t receive pay raises at all.
Johnson said that officers who have left the department have identified salary as the top reason for leaving, and the size of the staff, which presents a safety factor, has also had an impact.
The Fire Department now has 42 certified firefighters, said Fire Chief Bryan Thornton.
“I’m in desperate need of three more,” he told the council. He said the cost of salary and benefits, training and gear would be $280,000 for the three positions.
Thornton is also asking for a $950,000 apparatus, equipped with a fire pump, water tank, hose body, aerial device and ground ladders, for Station No. 2. It would replace a 1999 pumper truck, he said.
The proposed budget shows total expected revenues of about $31.5 million, which represents a 5.1% increase compared to the amended budget for fiscal 2019, and total expenses of about $31.05 million, up 5.3%.
“We only budget revenue conservatively,” Barnes said. “We want a cushion in there.”
The departments with the greatest share of the budget are the Fire Department, with nearly $4.1 million; the Police Department, with about $5.8 million; and the Sanitation Department, with almost $3.6 million.
Sales taxes make up 40% of revenue, according to Barnes.
The proposed budget shows total tax revenue for fiscal 2020 at about $15.3 million, up from about $14.6 million.
The operating budget surplus before any discretionary appropriations for agencies are approved is $453,837, the proposed budget shows. The amended budget for fiscal 2019 provided $452,000 in discretionary appropriations.
“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room,” for providing appropriations beyond level funding, Barnes said.
She said a recommendation for those appropriations won’t go to the council until late October or early November.
During the work session, Marks said he had “good news” about Councilman Frank Travis and his wife, Sharon, who were taken to Huntsville Hospital last Friday after they were allegedly struck by their son with a vehicle.
Frank Travis was still in the hospital’s surgical intensive care, while his wife might soon move to a rehabilitation facility, according to Marks. “They continue to improve,” he said.
Athens police charged their son, Sean Travis, 33, with two counts of first-degree domestic violence/assault, and he was transferred to the Limestone County Jail, where he remained Thursday afternoon.
District Judge Matthew Huggins on Wednesday ordered that Sean Travis’ bond be revoked on a previous public intoxication charge.