Athens Police Department is in the market for two new officers.
City Council member tentatively agreed during a pre-meeting work session Monday to increase the force. The department currently has 46 sworn officers, up to 20 reserve officers, seven dispatchers and three administrative staffers.
Police Chief Floyd Johnson made the request during the council's midyear budget review. He cited heavy call volume at night as the main reason for needing more officers.
Two new officers would cost the city $105,000, which includes $52,500 a year in salary and benefits for each, said City Clerk Annette Barnes. Specifically, each officer would receive a $33,000 annual base pay plus $19,500 in benefits, including payroll taxes, retirement, health and dental insurance, disability and workers compensation, she said.
Johnson also asked the council to upgrade a relief dispatcher to the position of full-time dispatcher and hire a part-time parking-enforcement employee. Upgrading the relief dispatcher would cost $3,700 per year for salary and benefits, Barnes said. Adding a part-time parking-enforcement officer would cost $15,000 to $16,000 per year, with no benefits, she said.
The council did not make a decision on the dispatcher upgrade or the parking-enforcement officer.
During discussion of the two new officers, Mayor Ronnie Marks told council members they could consider hiring two officers now or when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Council weighs in
Councilman Jimmy Gill, who supported the need to hire, asked Johnson how long it would take to hire two officers. Johnson said the process takes about six weeks. Gill thought Johnson should begin the process now so the council could vote and have the officers in place beginning Oct. 1.
Council President Harold Wales said that while he did not doubt the veracity of anything Johnson requested he did want more time to consider the matter. Referring to the stated need for more officers, Wales said, “I just don't see the need in our neighborhood.” He also said adding more officers would be expensive.
Marks said to Wales, “We probably need six officers...let me carry you within a half mile of your house.”
Councilman Joseph Cannon said he has done ride-along with police officers and has seen, firsthand, the increased call volume at night in some areas of the city.
Councilman Wayne Harper, the city’s former police chief, was already aware of the need.
Councilman Chris Seibert was also amenable to adding two officers.
After some discussion, the majority of the council tentatively agreed to allow Johnson to proceed with the search for two new officers and to have them ready for hire on Oct. 1. The council still would have to approve modifications to the organizational chart to incorporate the full-time positions, Barnes said.
Human Resources Director, Sharon Seay would present the changes to the chart, probably at the end of June or the first of July, Barnes said. If approved, the city clerk would build the cost into the fiscal 2015 budget, she said.