Grant will save four police jobs in Federal Way

Amid budget projections that could mean laying off commissioned police officers, the Federal Way Police Department received good news Thursday.

Federal Way was awarded a COPS Hiring Program grant, worth $1.03 million, from the Department of Justice. It will provide entry level funding for four police officers for a three-year time span. The city will be required to keep the officers on the payroll for an additional year following the three-year period. City manager/police chief Brian Wilson said he was hopeful and "saying his prayers every night" that his department would be awarded the grant.

A total of $298 million was awarded to 379 law enforcement agencies nationwide in an effort to preserve public safety. The recipients of the funding had to apply for the grant money. Federal Way's request was fully met and its award is the largest among those distributed to departments in Washington state. Yakima County received the second highest grant funding of approximately $730,000.

"This funding is crucial to ensuring that Federal Way remains a safe place to live, work and raise a family," said District 9 Congressman Adam Smith in a prepared statement. "In the current economic environment, cities and towns across the country face difficult choices when it comes to public safety funding. Today’s announcement will help relieve some of that pressure and allow Federal Way to continue to focus on its public safety priorities."

The grant couldn't come at a better time for the city. Wilson's currently proposed worst-case scenario 2011-2012 budget, which has not been reviewed by the city council and could change before the final budget is passed in early December, calls for cutting 18 filled commissioned police officer positions. Previously, Wilson said cuts will not be made to officers hired with funding collected through the 2006 voter approved Proposition One measure. Prop. 1 raised residents' utility taxes 1.75 percent to fund 18 new positions within the police department. Wilson announced late last week that he made an error in his previous calculations of the amount of revenue expected to be generated from Prop. 1 through 2012. Revenues are now expected to fund 16 of the 18 positions, he said.

The COPS grant includes language that will allow Wilson to retain officers, rather than hire new ones. The department has three vacant officer positions and one vacant lieutenant position. Wilson prefers to keep those positions empty and use the COPS grant to avoid laying off officers that are currently working full time with the department.

"I'm planning to utilize this grant to maintain officers I'd otherwise have to terminate," he said.

The grant will greatly help Federal Way, but it will not likely cover the complete costs of retaining four officers. COPS provides funds equivalent to entry level pay and benefits for four officers for three years. But it's likely that the officers retained will not be entry level officers and therefore will have a higher salary, Wilson said. The decision as to which officers will be kept will be based on seniority and performance, he said. If senior officers are saved, their salaries will exceed entry level wages. Wilson and the city council will have to collaboratively decide how to cover the bridge in salary costs. One-time funding could be used.

This funding source includes savings from capital projects that were completed for less than what the city originally allocated toward the project. Examples include the Pacific Highway South Phase Four HOV lanes project.

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