Is it possible to get more without paying more? Hannibal City Manager Jeff LaGarce believes it is and with the City Council's blessing has implemented a plan in the new budget that will “super staff” the Police Department without raising taxes.

Is it possible to get more without paying more? Hannibal City Manager Jeff LaGarce believes it is and with the City Council’s blessing has implemented a plan in the new budget that will “super staff” the Police Department without raising taxes.

Currently, HPD is staffed with 40 full-time officers, which represents an increase from 37 officers in 2014, according to LaGarce, who adds that filling vacancies there has proven “troublesome.”

“Each individual vacancy takes one full quarter to fill. Further, a new police officer must ride with a field training officer for a period of six months, prior to being able to operate independently,” wrote the city manager in a budget memo to the Council. “Therefore, a police officer vacancy takes nine months to effectively fill – to have that officer replaced and effectively working police patrols.”

Periodic turnover is not the only staffing challenges that are faced at HPD.

“Many police officers also serve as National Guard members. Temporary vacancies triggered by military call-ups are not filled for obvious reasons - the officer will eventually be returning. Military call-ups present a tremendous challenge to the Police Department,” said LaGarce. “Many of Hannibal’s police officers are young and beginning families. Draws on family and medical leave are frequent for childbirths, or prolonged absences relating to the same.

“Even an officer retirement takes a full nine months to fully replace.”

Because of “significant reductions” in police academy enrollments across the nation the pool of potential replacement officers has grown shallower.

“The end-result is intolerable shortages in the department,” said LaGarce. “Despite funding and allocations being set at 40, at one point during the 2017 fiscal year, the effective number of officers available for duty was only 31.”

When the number of available officers declines it “triggers a tremendous amount of overtime,” explained the city manager.

According to LaGarce, the amount of money budgeted for salaries but went unpaid at HPD due to vacancies, etc., was enough in each of the last five years that the city could have employed two additional police officers on staff (totaling 42), and still fallen below its payroll figures. In three of the past five years, the city could have had 43 police officers on-staff and not exceeded its budget, added the city manager.

In terms of dollars and cents, just over $2.6 million (including salaries, Social Security, pension contributions and property/casualty insurance) is budgeted for uniformed police officers in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017.

“Given five full years of historical (pay period) data, the city can ‘super staff’ (42 officers) the police officer corps and spend its budgetary allocation of $2,601,003 or below for salaries and compensation,” said LaGarce, adding that “theoretically, we’ll never have more than 40 officers on the payroll at any one time.”

If, however, the city finds itself facing a situation where 42 officers would be on staff “we will simply cease hiring, or use management discretion to reduce our super-staffing target to 41,” said LaGarce, explaining that “42 officers still means some actual number below 40 in real terms, but very near to 40, for actual expenditure purposes.”

This budget approach offers another potential benefit.

“Overtime costs should reduce as well, as officers would no longer be working overtime to staff patrol shifts,” said LaGarce.

The city manager believes the plan will prove beneficial.

“We feel this is an excellent way to maintain full staff allocations in the Police Department, or very near their full staff allocations, without allocating additional funds in the budget, or spending additional money. If anything, it will cause actual overtime costs to reduce as well because the department will not be experiencing shift shortages,” said LaGarce.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com