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Council discusses police staffing

HOUGHTON — Houghton City Council members were receptive to overtime for police at this week’s budget workshop.

The projected budget for the next fiscal year, the first in which overtime was separated from salaries and wages, included $21,300 for overtime. Council members suggested the number could be higher if necessary, pointing to the $24,460 accrued as of Dec. 31.

Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen suggested augmenting coverage during special events with money from the TV Franchise fund, which City Manager Eric Waara said was possible.

Councilor Philip Foltz praised the department for proactive work, and said Houghton has the best department in the area.

“Is that worth paying for?” he said. “In my book it is. As long as there’s a way to reduce that number for overtime that’s realistic, great. But if it’s not, I don’t think there are many citizens that are going to want to go backward in terms of public safety to save money.”

Through the end of the year, overtime was at about 10 percent of wages, said Councilor Mike Needham. That amount’s sustainable, he said, going by his experience in manufacturing.

“You go very much over that and you probably should be hiring more people,” he said. “If you’re below that, great, but are you really doing everything you can with what you have?”

Needham asked if the final six months of the fiscal year would be typical of the back half. Police Chief John Donnelly said despite some usual bumps (vacation in July, students returning in September) the amount is relatively steady.

Councilor Rachel Lankton suggested raising the budgeted amount for overtime, with which council members agreed.

“If it’s Mike’s 10 percent, then we’re looking at $40 (000),” she said.

Waara asked the council if there was a consensus for the 10 percent amount. Council members said they backed whatever Waara found to be a realistic number.

Councilor Daniel Salo said the amount can also be amended later on.

“It’s not like we’re throwing a spitball against the wall and saying ‘Hey, I think that’s where it should be,'” he said.

The city also budgeted $18,500 for replacing aging security cameras. A new camera may also be installed on M-26 and Sharon Avenue, due to the frequency of accidents at the intersection.

“We have cameras throughout the area,” Donnelly said. “We don’t want to wait 10 years until all the cameras are old and dysfunctional.”

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