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Saxonburg puts police back to work

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:22 a.m.

Saxonburg residents will once again see police officers patrolling the borough.

Council on Wednesday transferred $4,300 from its building maintenance fund to staff the department for the equivalent of eight hours per day through Dec. 31.

For about the past month, police Chief Joe Beachem has been the only officer on duty because the department ran out of money to pay part-time officers.

“I'm very happy they chose to move the funds over,” said Mayor Jody Pflueger, who oversees the department. “It's good for the community.”

She said she plans to adjust the schedule to provide the best coverage, which could mean an officer is on duty for fewer or more than eight hours a day.

Council had budgeted $71,000 to pay 11 part-time officers who earn $15 per hour, but the department ran out of money last month due to two major investigations at the beginning of the year.

The eight-hour staffing model was one of three proposals that Beachem and Pflueger presented to council. The others would have staffed the department for the equivalent of six hours per day at a total cost of $3,500, or 14 hours per day, at a total cost of $6,600.

The money transferred covers estimated fuel costs and phone and fax use.

Council president William Gillespie Jr. said if there is an emergency it's possible that additional funds could be transferred.

“We don't want any more ‘Hey stop, we're out of money,'-type situations,” he said.

Council OKs tax hike for next year

Saxonburg Council approved a 2013 budget that includes a 21 percent property tax increase and cuts the police budget.

The $640,800 budget increases taxes a total of four mills, to 22.66 mills.

Two mills will pay for the borough's five-year debt service on a $120,000 loan it took out to fund the Main Street Stormwater Project. In five years, when the debt is paid, the tax rate will drop by two mills.

“It's been a very tough budget,” Gillespie said. “It's leading to some tough decisions in the future as well.”

The spending plan also cuts $20,000 from the police department's budget to pay part-time officers.

The cut means about 1,500 fewer hours available for police staffing.

Before council voted, two residents urged members not to cut the police budget.

“I understand you have a budget, but I think public safety is really not the right place to cut,” said Donald Andrews, a former councilman. “We have a nice little community here, and I would like it to stay that way.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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