Just two weeks after the Leesburg Police Department saw two positions added to its fiscal year 2019 budget, the positions were eliminated by the Town Council in straw votes Monday night.
In its final budget mark-up session before tonight’s expected budget and tax rate adoption, a narrow majority of council members voted to eliminate the police dispatcher and youth services coordinator positions added during its last set of meetings. The two positions would have accounted for $185,000 in compensation and benefits, and would have funded by raising the real estate tax rate to 18.64 cents per $100 of assessed value, up from Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s recommended 18.4-cent rate.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox, who was the one to pitch adding the dispatcher position two weeks ago, said she understood that both positions were sorely needed. But she suggested that the positions be filled via the department’s current staff vacancies, which now total 11.
Police Chief Gregory Brown said that would only be delaying “the inevitable.”
“It’s not my desired approach simply because I’m going to be coming back to you next year to ask for those positions back,” he said. “I need to replenish the ranks at some point.”
Of the vacancies, Dentler said Brown has two certified officers in the immediate pipeline to hire. He is also trying to fill five to six officer spots in the academy this summer.
To address the dispatcher shortage, he has had to pull a sworn officer in to fill the staffing deficiency. Brown previously noted that it takes about 12 months to adequately train a dispatcher, and two dispatchers are expected to leave the department in the coming months.
The other proposed position, a youth services coordinator, would work closely with area juveniles, the school and court systems, to provide support to area youths and take a proactive approach in identifying at-risk youth, Brown said.
“I would never come before the council with a want versus a need,” Brown said. “I’ve looked at our service deficiencies, and how we can be more effective with community outreach.”
Despite Brown’s warnings, Fox, Mayor Kelly Burk, and council members Tom Dunn and Josh Thiel all supported removing the two positions.
Burk made one last pitch to earmark $30,000 from town staff vacancy savings to conduct a community survey of residents and businesses, but found no support.
While no other council members offered ideas for budget cuts or additions, Dunn emphasized the need to begin an early study of areas where the town could request county funding help for the fiscal year 2020 budget. Dentler said he expects to report back to the council on that by mid-summer.
With the two police department positions cut, the proposed tax rate now sits at 18.4 cents, the same rate adopted for the current fiscal year 2018 budget. The council is expected to vote on both the tax rate and adopt the budget at tonight’s meeting. Council members may still offer changes to the budget tonight.