Nearly 300 officers would lose their jobs in layoffs. When added to the number of retirees who wouldn’t be replaced, Columbus would have 324 fewer police than it has today.
“This is devastating for our division,” the first-year chief said. “You’ve heard the old adage, ‘doing more with less?’ We’re going to do less with less.”
The 1,568-member force Distelzweig proposed would be the city’s smallest since 1993, when there were 91,000 fewer people living here. Already, Distelzweig said, there will be fewer police on duty for Red, White & Boom, scheduled for July 3, because the division is trying to reduce overtime costs. For 2010, the city would cut 75 detectives from its narcotics, burglary, vice and economic-crimes units. It would shut down motorcycle and freeway units, end an arrangement that stations officers in 17 Columbus high schools, and reassign officers who watch over city reservoirs and work as liaisons with neighborhood groups.
Tax-increase opponents have called predictions of police layoffs a tactic designed to scare up support for the tax increase.
City leaders want to raise the income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent. It would cost people who work in Columbus an extra $50 for every $10,000 in annual income. They already pay $200 for every $10,000 earned.
Republican council candidate Roseann Hicks, who’s against the increase, said Columbus first should fund police and fire and other basic services at their required levels, then decide what it can afford with what’s left.
Councilman Andrew J. Ginther, who chairs the council’s safety committee, said officials are just being honest with voters about the stakes on Aug. 4.
On the spending side, police and fire account for 72 percent of general-fund spending. Personnel accounts for nearly 93 percent of police-division costs.
“You just can’t come up with the kinds of numbers we’re describing and take (72 percent), 93 percent off the table,” Ginther said. “You have to balance the budget. There are no IOUs.”
Finance Director Joel S. Taylor asked all city departments to submit 2010 budget proposals that cut discretionary spending based on their share of the general fund.
But Taylor said the mayor and council members have yet to apply their priorities to the budget. They could choose to protect some areas at the expense of others. Distelzweig’s plan was sent to Public Safety Director Mitchell J. Brown, who will write a budget proposal once the Fire Division submits its plan. Brown’s budget for Public Safety is due by the end of the week.
Mayor Michael B. Coleman will submit a 2010 citywide budget in mid-November. The City Council has final say.
The proposed income-tax increase would raise $90 million to $100 million a year. But city officials have pegged next year’s deficit at $105 million and growing.
Jim Gilbert, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said his fellow Columbus officers take the layoff threat seriously. Members of the union, which is in the middle of contract negotiations, voted last week to endorse the tax-increase proposal.
“I think the citizens really need to know that policing in this city will change,” Gilbert said. “Those cuts would be devastating and they’d have a long-term effect.”
Emergency response would remain the highest priority, Distelzweig said, but “you’re probably not going to get much service on a minor crime.”
Based on seniority, he said, officers hired over the last four years would face layoffs. That includes 25 whose jobs were spared in March when Columbus received $1.25 million in federal economic-stimulus money.