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Federal Way declines money for hiring police | Mayor warns of state budget impact
Federal Way will decline an approximately $800,000 Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Mayor Skip Priest announced during the city council meeting Feb. 21.
The COPS grant would have allowed the Federal Way Police Department to hire three more police officers, with the DOJ footing the bill for the first three years. After the third year, those officers' salaries would need to be picked up by the city — something that is just not possible at this time, Priest said.
The city had previously accepted a COPS grant in 2010 of $1.36 million to fund four officer positions, with the city needing to pick up the tab next year. That was another factor in the refusal to accept the current grant, Priest noted.
"We have, as all of you know, committed to creating a sustainable budget for 2013-14 and beyond. But if we're going to do that, unfortunately, we must proceed conservatively. In fairness, too, if one is to hire three or four officers based on a grant that we cannot meet…We have made a commitment as a city not to hire and then fire based on hopes, as opposed to reality," Priest said.
State budget's impact on Federal Way
Priest prefaced his announcement with his thoughts on a proposed budget that had come out of Olympia that day. He said the uncertainty surrounding funding for cities played an important part in the city's decision to turn down the funding.
"The House Democrats released their budget proposal…suggesting cuts of $86 million in revenues to cities. The cost of those cuts in that proposal would be approximately $800,000 a year in revenues to the City of Federal Way. It's clear from the House proposal, that the state Legislature is going to balance its budget, if not in total, certainly to a large extent, on the backs of the cities."
Priest conceded that it's early to accept that the newly released proposal will be the one passed in Olympia. He warned that there will be "a significant impact of the city of Federal Way when the final budget is completed."
Along with that anticipated shortfall, Priest cited the recent closing of PJ Pockets Casino as another hit to the city budget that made accepting the COPS grant all the more difficult.
"We will also lose approximately $300,000 in gambling revenues due to the closing of PJ Pockets," he said. "Just between the initial House budget and the PJ Pockets closure, you're looking at approximately $1.1 million a year (in revenues)."
Doom and gloom predictions aside, Priest noted the continued effectiveness of Federal Way police in the past couple of years as the department's staffing levels have declined.
"Public safety continues to be the top priority of the city, as it's been since the department was formed in 1996. We're pleased that in 2011, we achieved the lowest crime rate since the inception of the police department," Priest said. "While the challenges are many, and difficult, we will continue to maximize officers on the street, and ensure that the streets and neighborhoods of Federal Way remain safe."
City spokesman Chris Carrel said the refusal to accept the grant was a pragmatic approach to the reality of the situation and the fluid conditions of current and future budgets.
"One of the most salient pieces of this is the fact that things have changed so dramatically since the time we applied for the grant," Carrel said. "The grant was based on a staffing level of 126 commissioned officers, and due to budget cuts, we're down to 122 officers. We're at 122, which is financially sustainable, but to accept the grant, we'd have to be at 126, and hold that level for the four years of the grant. That would be an outlay of $1.7 million to fund those four additional police positions. It isn't financially sustainable."
Police Chief Brian Wilson agrees with the city's decision, saying it's a sensible approach in the current economic climate.
"The financial health of the city moving forward is of critical importance. For me to hire police officers and staff, I want to ensure I have funding for them into the future," Wilson said. "The mayor has worked tirelessly since taking office to fund the police officers we already have on an ongoing basis. At our current staffing level, we are meeting overall citizen expectations for police services, and in 2011, experienced the lowest crime rate since 1996 with the formation of the police department. I support this very tough decision to enhance the police department's financial sustainability moving forward."
To read a report on the city's 2011 crime statistics, click here.