Saxonburg police staffing decision delayed
Saxonburg council will wait until next month to make a decision on police department staffing for the rest of the year.
As a result, police Chief Joe Beachem will be the only officer on duty in the town of about 1,500 residents for at least the next two weeks.
He's been alternating between daylight and evening shifts since the second week of November, said Mayor Jody Pflueger, who oversees the department.
“The council president (William Gillespie Jr.) emailed me and asked me to take everyone off the schedule,” so the department wouldn't go over budget, Pflueger said.
Council budgeted $71,000 to pay the other 11 officers on the force, who are part time and earn $15 per hour. Beachem's salary is covered for the year.
Council was considering an additional $1,800 to staff the department with 40-hour-per-week coverage for the remaining three weeks in December.
The money would be issued to the department as a “loan,” Pflueger said. It would be deducted from the department's 2013 budget, which was cut by $20,000.
The department's 2012 budget is about $154,000.
Council called a special meeting for Monday afternoon to discuss the issue, but with two members absent, including Gillespie, it was decided to delay a decision.
The part-time officers' budget was depleted due to man-hours needed to investigate a bank robbery in February and a double suicide in January, Pflueger said.
Council heard Monday from several police officers and residents, most of whom urged council not to cut the police force to save money.
“The residents deserve to have us,” part-time officer Amy Dice, of Buffalo Township, told council. “I know it's a small town, the crime rate is pretty low, but you have to give a little bump to the PD for that.
“This is something that we can fix for the betterment of the community and the safety of the community.”
But resident David Bowne told council that the board should consider what the town can afford when making its decision regarding 2012 staffing.
“The issue here is not the quality of the police department, I'm sure they're all fine officers,” Bowne said. “The issue is what can we, as a borough, afford? We can't afford everything that we have and we have an obligation to adjust what we can't afford.”
Pflueger couldn't say whether having fewer officers on patrol will affect the crime rate, but she said she believes residents deserve a police department.
“The taxpayers pay to have a department, so it would be nice to have that and provide it to the community,” she said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.