Answering nearly 80,000 calls for service annually has resulted in a lot of pay in lieu of compensatory time for Billings police officers — and a bit of a headache for their chief, Rich St. John.
During the 2012-13 fiscal year — the most recent year for which figures are available — the comp time cash out, as St. John explained to city council members Monday during a budget session, totaled $308,995. Under the officers’ current contract, there’s no cap on comp time cash outs, and officers can even receive pay for their work months later at a higher rate of pay than where they were to receive when the work was done.
The issue won’t blow that big a hole in the upcoming budget, St. John said, because of savings in other categories, including unfilled police vacancies. With new contract talks set to occur this summer, “we need to find out a strategy to deal with it,” he said.
“The good thing is that we know about it,” he said. “It’s not catastrophic right now; it’s problematic.”
Negotiating the matter will require bargaining with the Montana Public Employees Association, he said.
“Will there be pushback from the union? Absolutely,” he said. “It’s a great benefit.”
Presenting next, Fire Chief Paul Dextras discussed both plans and challenges in the year to come. After spending about $918,000 for its third aerial ladder truck during the coming year, the department plans to retain one of the two existing trucks at the $12,000 cost it could have made selling it.
“We wouldn’t get much for a trade-in, and we want to keep it on the West End of town,” Dextras said. “In case of a catastrophic event, that is very important.”
He said the department will spend $60,000 during the 2014-15 fiscal year on a burn building facility that uses containers to give firefighters live fire training. That’s a far lower cost than building a new burn building, he said.
The 911 dispatch center will be relocated to a spot near its current location, at Fire Station #1, and the department has more than $3 million set aside to help pay for the move.
Lisa Harmon, executive director of the Downtown Billings Association, presented a three-part work plan for the coming year. The clean program for the 18-block district includes graffiti and trash removal, power washing and snow removal.
Under the public realm, the district provides flower baskets, a loan-a-bike program and bench upkeep, among other benefits.
The work plan also includes a public safety component, which funds two downtown police officers and a crime watch program for businesses.
Following the budget talks, five residents — all of them against the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance — offered brief talks.
Adam Burt, youth pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, told the city council city ordinance discriminates against him for what he called his lifestyle choices, including not being able to take his dog to a city park and not revving his car too loudly.
He also said youth at his church must sometimes choose between potentially making more money in their jobs by being available to work Sundays and Wednesdays or attending church functions.
Some members of his youth group, he said, “struggle with same-sex attraction and are trying to figure out who they are.” Anyone who “chooses that lifestyle is welcome to worship with us,” he said.
Emily Larson said an NDO could open the city up to “major” lawsuits and that “there’s already protection for the homosexual community.” A neighbor of hers, she said, faced discrimination at work, “filed a complaint – and now she drives a very large truck.”