Critical and desperate were among terms used by Minot's police and fire chiefs to describe their staff-related issues at a budget meeting with Minot City Council members Thursday.
The city's $166.6 million proposed budget for 2013 doesn't include $4.4 million in alternate spending for up to 62.5 employee positions. The staff additions were a focus of the council as it met in committee session with department heads to talk about the budget.
The police department identified seven positions deemed "urgent" on the priority list. Four new officers would be placed on patrol, adding one officer to each shift. The city runs an overlapping shift during night hours, making for four daily shifts.
Five officers per shift is the "minimal level" of staffing that the department can afford, Police Chief Jason Olson said. The department currently operates at that level 80 percent of the time, he said.
It's also important to beef up the detective division, he said.
"We are seeing about a 40 percent increase in drug cases right now, and they are extremely busy," Olson said.
The other position the department would like to add is a compliance officer to enforce licensed operations, such as pawn shops and bars.
Fire Chief CJ Craven listed an assistant chief/training officer as his department's greatest staff need. He said 25 percent of the staff has less than two years experience, and the current battalion chief in charge of training has limited time available for staff development.
The department also needs a fire inspector, whose duties include reviewing new construction. The current fire inspector is "so far behind it's actually a detriment to public safety," Craven said. "We are just in desperate need of help."
In an urgent request for two additional firefighters, he noted the department has only one firefighter more than it had on staff in 1981.
"That's how much the fire department has held the line. It's not working anymore," he said.
As much as they need more staff, Olson and Craven stressed that retention is even more important.
"We are having extreme problems when it comes to retention," Olson said. "The previous five that we hired, we have only retained one of those five and we have lost them for various reasons."
Olson's fear, though, is the loss of experienced officers if pay adjustments aren't made. Given the choice between more pay and more staff, he'd take the pay, he said.
"The pay plan is critical to retention," he said. "There are a number of our experienced officers that are waiting with bated breath to see what's going to happen with the pay plan. Depending on how that pay plan shakes out, it's going to determine whether they stay with the city. ... Those experienced officers are extremely valuable to the department, and it pains us when we lose one."
"The retention and pay issue is our number one priority," Craven said. "That's by far the most important thing is retaining those people we have already spend an enormous amount of money on training."
Turnover has been an issue in keeping the departments at full staff. The police department is authorized for up to 65 officers but has never reached that, Olson said. It currently has 58 employees.
Forty of the 62.5 positions listed in the alternate budget are urgently requested, costing more than $2.9 million.
In addition, the public works and engineering departments are requesting $1.2 million for an expansion of the Public Works Building to accommodate growing staff needs. The fire department is requesting land purchase for an eventual new fire station in north Minot.
Council members acknowledged the needs but also were leery about the type of budget increases being proposed.
"I realize we are growing but there's still a situation out there with the citizens of the city that have to pay the property taxes, and we do need to look at that," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said.
Alderman Bob Miller said people recovering from the flood already are stretched financially.
"People are really struggling. They have depleted their assets," he said. "This is adding substantial difficulty."
The 40 urgent positions would add $62 to the $356 tax bill that already exists in the proposed budget for each $100,000 of home value.