Tulsa police, fire department staffing levels down, net funding up, report shows
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 8:15 AM
Staffing levels at Tulsa's police and fire departments have fallen since 2003 despite net funding increases, a new report shows.
The report, commissioned for a City Council committee last week, shows the Police Department had 48 fewer filled positions in January than it did 10 years earlier despite a cumulative funding increase of 27.8 percent - or 2.4 percent when considering the city's sales tax inflation of 24.7 percent.
The Fire Department had 38 fewer positions after a 25.3 percent funding increase, or 0.5 percent with inflation, the report shows.
Although the number of authorized positions in both departments decreased in that span, the Fire Department's loss of filled positions exceeded its loss of 33 authorized positions, indicating a downward trend.
The Police Department's loss of 59 authorized positions exceeded its loss of filled positions, which is a positive note for the department.
City Councilor G.T. Bynum said he requested the report from the City Council's staff to show how the city cannot expect to increase the number of public safety employees by "throwing money" at the departments.
"A lot of the time I think we fall into the trap as councilors - and the public falls into the trap - of thinking, 'Well if we want more police officers on the ground, all we need to do is put more money in public safety,' " he said.
"We need to be mindful of this in budgeting - that it's not just about throwing money at it and assuming that we're going to get more boots on the ground. That mistake has been made historically."
Council Policy Administrator Jack Blair said councilors can adjust funding for the police and fire departments each year, but staffing decisions are in the jurisdiction of the mayor and chiefs.
According to the report, the general fund expenditures for police increased from $64.7 million in fiscal year 2002 to $82.7 million this fiscal year, 2012. For the Fire Department, expenditures went from $50.7 million to $63.6 million.
Meanwhile, the average number of filled police positions each year fell from 926 to 878, while the Fire Department went from 721 to 683. That includes civilian positions and positions that were filled by more than one person due to a temporary transition period, Blair said.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan told the City Council last month that police have been unable to increase their staff in recent years due to budget constraints and the 2009 recession.
He also noted that current police officers have been given raises.
The comments followed a request by Bynum to update the council on the department's status of implementing the recommendations of an independent consultant in 2008. The consultant determined that the department should hire 58 new officers and create 40 civilian positions.
Since January 2008, police have lost 64 filled positions, according to the City Council report. However, the department has filled 75 positions since reaching a low of 803 in 2011.
The request for the report was "kind of a follow-on" to the earlier discussion with Jordan, Bynum said.
Clay Ballenger, president of Tulsa's Fraternal Order of Police - the police union - said his group has endured layoffs and agreed to forgo raises as a concession to the city during hard economic times.
However, the union believes competitive wages and benefits are necessary to retain qualified officers, he said.
Even after the city agreed to 4 percent raises last year, bringing the average rookie salary to $45,507, Tulsa officers' salaries were still about 13 percent behind those of comparison cities, he said.
The union strongly supports adding officers but does not consider staffing levels in its salary negotiations, he said.
That is the responsibility of city officials, he added.
"That's just not part of the negotiation process," he said.
Staff levels, funding
Low: 874, 2010
High: 940, 2003
Low: 803, 2011
High: 950, 2007
City General Fund Expenditures
Fiscal year 2002: $64.7 million
Fiscal year 2012: $82.7 million
Low: 686, 2010
High: 729, 2003
Low: 667, 2011
High: 721, 2003
City General Fund Expenditures
Fiscal year 2002: $50.7 million
Fiscal year 2012: $63.6 million
SOURCE: Tulsa City Council office
Original Print Headline: Police, fire funds up; staffing falls
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
G.T. Bynum: With budget issues it's "not just about throwing money at it and assuming that we're going to get more boots on the ground."