City schedules considerations to improve public safety outcomes

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Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington announced a timeline for considering public safety improvements that might impact the city’s budget.

The road map allows for a holistic performance-based budget deliberation that supports the desired outcomes outlined in the city’s strategic plan.

“This is part of the continuation of our strategic plan and performance-based budgeting process,” Washington said.

The timeline kicks off Aug. 11 with the police department’s new draft strategic plan. Police Chief Eric Payne will present the plan during the city commission’s committee of the whole meeting. Based on commission and community feedback, Payne will provide an update on the strategic plan Sept. 29.

City staff also will present a fiscal year 2020 performance management update to highlight progress made across the entire city organization between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020.

The remaining timeline is:

  • November: City staff will present an analysis of the city’s FY2020 budget versus actual expenditures, FY2021 midyear adjustments and an FY2022 budget forecast. The city commission will discuss an FY2021 reprioritization strategy and FY2022 prioritization.
  • Dec. 15: Washington will propose any midyear budget amendments as needed.
  • February 2021: City staff will provide an FY2021 midyear performance management update.
  • April 2021: Washington will propose the city’s FY2022 preliminary fiscal plan.
  • May 2021: The city commission will vote on the FY2022 fiscal plan.

“We are tapping the brakes on spending and ensuring that investments that are being made are intentionally aligned with our strategic and desired outcomes,” Washington said. “With respect to the police department, we are exploring how we can start innovative initiatives and investments in new initiatives such as the partnership with governmental behavioral mental/health organizations and a crime prevention strategy.”

Washington earlier this month proposed — and the city commission approved — a budget amendment that reallocated $403,000 of the police department’s budget to support increased investment in the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, public safety communications and a nonsworn civilian position in the police chief’s office to more strategically manage the budget, community engagement, recruiting and hiring, and the implementation of the department’s strategic plan.

Community members and some members of the city commission asked instead for millions of dollars to be removed from the police department’s budget. Washington said budget amendments of this magnitude should not be made “ad hoc” during the year but are better made and more strategic as midyear budget amendments or as part of the annual budget proposal process.

“I used a very deliberative budget process for the two previous budgets and tough choices were made to ensure we were investing strategically to achieve our desired outcomes,” he said. “This situation requires the same deliberative approach.”

Washington outlined his specific concerns about making a significant reduction to the police department budget beyond what was approved July 7. Firstly, the city’s FY2021 approved budget was $22 million less than FY2020 due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Secondly, the general fund portion of the police department’s budget already was reduced by $1.1 million. This resulted in a decreased FY2021 general fund police budget compared to FY2020.

The $1.1 million reduction made during the budget process and the additional $403,000 cut made earlier this month total $1.53 million and equates to 63% of the department’s overtime budget, or roughly 15 officers.

Washington added the reduction, along with the fact the 327-person police department staff is lower than the millennium high of 369, is an indication of staffing divestment despite the city’s population growth. Since personnel accounts for more than 80% of the police department’s budget, further reductions likely would result in layoffs.

The end is not known for the economic recession as a result of COVID-19 or the pandemic itself, Washington said, and added it is not wise to make drastic changes without a clear picture of expected revenue and expenditures.

Washington earlier this month expanded the organizational-wide hiring freeze through Dec. 31 to include the police and fire departments. The only exceptions are compelling reasons such as legal mandates, contractual requirements, critical services or documented cost avoidance.

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