Five communities in central Iowa (Ankeny, Des Moines, Indianola, Urbandale and West Des Moines) are struggling to find room in their budgets to cover skyrocketing police and/or fire pension costs. With a 30 percent city contribution on top of salary, city services have been cut and taxes have been raised to find the money. And the problem hasn’t peaked yet.
Given the stress these costs place on the budget, it makes sense for local governments to look at any and all opportunities to reduce or limit growth in public safety personnel. Communities are trying some creative approaches. Recently we learned about what’s happening to manage policing costs in West Des Moines from Police Chief Shaun Ladue.
West Des Moines’ police and fire pension contributions have risen from $1.2 million in FY 2010 to $2.5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1st. That’s double in just four years. Chief LaDue came on board late last summer and has already made changes that are helping to contain personnel costs in the police department. No reductions in force are planned, but he is managing an increasing workload within current staffing.
First, Chief LaDue took inventory of every function being carried out by uniformed officers; then he asked whether it was something that had to be done by a uniformed officer. He reasoned that with their high pension-related cost structure, it makes senses to limit uniformed officers to functions that can only be performed by a uniformed officer. Chief La Due mentioned the following examples as duties that don’t require a uniformed officer:
- Supervision of civilian staff;
- Technology-related functions;
- Records management functions; and
- Driving for civilian purposes, such as taking vehicles to the dealership for repair.
Managing overtime has been another priority for Chief LaDue. Training time, which he viewed as inadequate at 24 hours per year, often had to happen on an overtime basis. LaDue restructured the schedule from three 8-hour shifts per day to 10-hour shifts with some overlap. He has been able to increase training time to 120 hours per year, most all on regular time. He has also limited overtime by not automatically filling in when an officer calls in sick; instead a decision is made based on an assessment of true need at that time. Finally, he has sped up the hiring process by forecasting vacancies and hiring in advance of the vacancy when possible – retirement, medical, and deferred retirement to name a few. That way, he limits overtime when a vacancy needs to be covered as there is about a 10 month delay from hire date to solo patrol duties due to the extensive training required to perform the duties of a law enforcement professional, unlike many professions where you can hit the ground running.
Chief LaDue and the City of West Des Moines deserve a lot of credit for aggressively managing public safety costs and pension cost exposure. No doubt there are many strategies being employed by other communities to manage their public safety personnel costs. Please let us know what is working for you.