Ocean City Today

Public safety spending tops $35 million, less than FY ‘16

Police dept. heads list with proposal of $21.2 million, asks for additional officer
By Katie Tabeling | Apr 13, 2017

(April 14, 2017) Six departments and divisions presented their budgetary requests to the mayor and council Monday, each explaining its contribution to the coming year’s proposed $35.2 million spent on public safety.

Although the overall public safety budget increased by $1.2 million this year, the city is expecting a projected increase in revenues will more than cover it. Approximately $6.59 million will be paid for by grants, and others are covered via cost reductions and revenue generated from fines and fees.

The Police Department topped the list of requests at $21.2 million, a large portion of which involves personnel costs. Factored into the budget is step and cost-of-living increases for police union members that go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

“About 83 percent of our budget is attributed to salaries and benefits,” Chief Ross Buzzuro told the council. “This past year, we saw a $309,000 increase in salaries, and the pension is another $280,000. That’s a big reason why we’re up $770,000 this year.”

Other line items included four new police cruisers, a Chevy Tahoe and a larger Animal Control van to be paid out of the vehicle trust.

Buzzuro also asked for an additional police officer, which would bring the number offers on the payroll to 106. That position would start next January, halving the cost for the upcoming fiscal year.

Of the $44,989 that would be budgeted for that officer, half would be wages and could be allocated in the budget. Buzzuro said the new officer would increase morale by relieving some of the overtime hours. In 13 months, seven officers have left the department, most of them citing quality of life issues, the chief said.

“I have never seen this in my tenure, and in previous spans there has been loss or fluctuations,” Buzzuro said. “But what I know internally, it’s very concerning.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman said that through the Police Commission they had discussed two additional officers, which could be funded by unallocated tow increase fees.

“My question is usually how can we save. This is my only time in the budget process I’m asking, are we spending enough?’” he said. “Officer retention is a concern of mine.”

“I don’t think asking for additional officers is reasonable based on the circumstances today,” Buzzuro answered. “One officer is a start.”

The council agreed to discuss the matter at budget wrap-up on Friday.

The Career Fire and EMS division did get its requested personnel, although some reorganization had to be done.  Four new firefighter/EMT positions were made instead of hiring a captain and two lieutenants.

Overall, the Fire/EMS budget increased from $7.7 million to $7.9 million in the next fiscal year. Like the police department, most of the fire department’s budget goes to personnel costs, $6.9 million in this instance.

“That includes a step increase and a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase that comes into effect on July 1 and the $50,000 one-time transitional bonus,” Fire Chief Chris Larmore told the council. The latter number is the amount stipulated in the fire union contract to offset costs to go to a new shift schedule.

Larmore said that the city received $1.2 million from the county in grants to provide service in West Ocean City. In 2016, the department handled 773 calls over the bridge.

The two other fire divisions, Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company and Fire Marshal’s Office, set the bar lower at $1.55 million and $1.07 million, respectively.

Increases in the Fire Marshal's Office reflect the promotion of one employee to deputy fire marshal, which increases health insurance and pension funding. Some employees that belong to the fire union will also see COLA and step increases.

The volunteer fire company had $125,735 earmarked for maintenance items, including a new furnaces and replacement generators at headquarters. The volunteers will also receive $217,000 for vehicle repairs, as that division is responsible for upkeep of the fire trucks.

In other public safety divisions, Director of Emergency Services Joe Theobald proposed expenditures of $2.7 million for communications, electronics and emergency management.  Although he had no personnel requested, he told the council that could change soon. Worcester dispatch centers will soon have the technology to include text 911, which would require a new staff member to sort and log the calls for service.

The Beach Patrol budgeted its expenses at $2.36 million. Two-thirds of that expenditure will go to salaries, and $27,200 was set aside for three replacement ATVs and a rescue watercraft.

Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin said Gov. Larry Hogan’s School after Labor Day initiative benefited his department, as he struggles to retain lifeguards in August. Last summer, staffed stands dropped from 88 in July to 30 the week before Labor Day.

“We’re not keeping the students that have to go back, but we’re retaining the teachers,” he said. “That allows the more senior members like sergeants, crew chiefs and assistant crew chiefs to stay longer in the beach.

“We haven’t been able to put the number of stands we’d like out there, based on personnel,” he added. “So we’re expanding the budget for personnel — something we haven't done in a very long time.”

Although the proposed public safety spending is greater than last year’s $34 million, it is in line with the $35.8 it spent in fiscal year 2016, when $30.9 million of it came out of the city’s coffers.

The council will review the requests made by each public safety department before voting on the resort’s overall budget in May.

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