By Carmen Scruggs
Public safety expenditures a part of St.Johns’ projected budget report will remain relatively stable, with only a 3 percent increase in expenses.
The budget for 2013 – 2014 provides $1,292,154 for police and fire safety. That amount is expected to grow to $1,330,919 due to the increase in costs over previous years. Since the 2011 fiscal year budget, outlays for public safety decreased roughly 31 percent.
Dennis LaForest, St.Johns’ City Manager, said changes in public safety expenditures in the 2013 – 2014 budget will affect the defined benefit pension plan for fire and police department employees.
“As the market has downturned, the return on the investment dollars into that plan have diminished so that has driven the amount that you’re funded to a lower level, therefore requiring you to pay in a few more dollars every year to make up what you’ve lost on the market on your funds,” said LaForest.
St.Johns has one fire department and one police department. The 2011 – 2012 actual budget expenditures showed $1,046,516 dedicated to the police department and $205,404 devoted to the fire department.
Within the two departments there are 10 full-time employees. Other expenditures in the public safety include drug law enforcement allocations, which cost $6,237 for the 2011 – 2012 year. The city will pay $12,567 for its one fire engine this fiscal year. The truck cost $212, 195.
LaForest said that changes in public safety for the 2013 – 2014 budget will provide stable employment within the departments and protection for the community.
“What happens is you are going to still provide the same amount of officers, the same amount of coverage but what it does mean is that funds that may be used for other things are going to be used for their pension plans so it’s not uncommon for that to come across the general fund operation,” said LaForest.
Police and fire safety typically comes out of general governmental funds and is expensive. If the city does not have enough money to provide adequate public safety, funding from other things must be repositioned in the budget to continue to provide public safety.
“You have to make a decision management-wise and elected officials have to concur that the priority for cities is to provide public safety,” stated LaForest.
Those modifications in public safety for the proposed budget are being made to provide St.Johns with continued protection.
“The city is here to provide public safety, fire safety, roads, water, waste water and public transit areas,” added LaForest. “Those are the things that cities are really meant to do so public safety has to be parallel.”