BRADENTON — Bradenton’s council chambers were filled with approximately 50 Bradenton Police Department officers who showed up at the city’s first public hearing on the 2009-2010 fiscal budget Wednesday afternoon in hopes of getting council members to raise taxes to put more officers in neighborhoods.
Two public safety officials spoke as well as one resident.
Arlene Flisik, a Bradenton resident, told council members she trusts they will make the right decision about the budget.
However, she said she was concerned about having enough police on the street.
“Police are on the forefront. If it takes another bit of money out of my pocket, then I am willing to do it,” she said. “I was thinking $20 rather than $40, but if it takes that extra than so be it.”
Carl Callahan, Bradenton city clerk and treasurer, recommended council members approve a millage rate equal to this fiscal year’s of 4.2843.
Council members, with the exception of Councilman Gene Gallo, who was absent, voted unanimously to tentatively approve that mill rate.
“People are not anxious to see a tax increase. It’s a fact,” said Callahan, referencing a struggling economy. “People want to keep as much money in their pocket as they can.”
The city has lost about $2.5 million in revenues through a reduction of property tax revenue after Amendment 1 was passed last year, coupled with decreasing property valuations. The city operates on a $33 million general fund budget.
An alternative was to increase the mill rate to 4.6758, which would generate $1.1 million more revenue than what was approved. That rate would allow the city to bring in the same amount of tax revenue as last year.
Mayor Wayne Poston, who is also the police commissioner, said he hopes the alternate rate gets passed.
“I think most citizens would be willing to spend the dime a day to continue services in the city. Not just for public safety but other areas as well,” he said.
Poston and other officials said they were impressed with the turn out. He said since 2000, a total of eight people have come to a budget hearing.
Recently, Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said officers and residents could be placed at risk if the city does not hire more police officers.
The current budget called for the police department to receive an estimated $12.5 million, or 38 percent of the city budget’s general funds. This year, the proposed budget calls for $11.9 million.
Bradenton Police will receive $1.1 million in October to retain six uniform officer positions through the COPS Hiring Recovery Fund, part of the federal stimulus program that lasts for three years. The grant will allow the department to hire 120 officers — the same number of officers they had last year.
Otherwise, there would have been 114 officers left after possible layoffs, Radzilowski said. He said he wanted at least 122 officers for the department to deal with the increasing volume of service calls.
This week, police officials have been looking at ways to try and cut back calls for service. Ideas include no longer having a desk officer on the midnight shift, using an online program for residents to file minor complaints as well as reviewing what kinds of medical calls police respond to with paramedics.
“We want to stay in neighborhoods fighting crime and not come out for minor things that are not police related at all. That’s the goal,” Radzilowski said.
The city had budgeted for 122 officers this past year, however all hiring was frozen when officials learned revenues would be decreasing.
“Obviously with less officers it affects public safety now and it will in the future. Please consider doing a tax increase and giving us the officers we need,” said Master Patrol Officer Sean O’Leary, who is also a union representative and city resident.
Public safety has been the last to feel the impacts, according to officials.
“You have to run the business like you are going to be in business forever,” said Patrick Roff, council member. “I’m trying to figure out how we can keep safe streets and stay in business. I take this very seriously. ... I have not heard from a slew of constituents telling me which way to go on this, but I am certainly hoping for suggestions.”
Callahan said grant funding for the school resource officers, as well as other one time revenue sources, are expected to run out the following year totalling approximately $600,000.
“It’s a very scary proposition to see where this could end up,” he said.