Three new firefighters, four additional police officers and a sustainability coordinator may be in the works at the city of Bend.
City councilors will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the additional positions. None will affect the city’s budget, as the money for the new police and fire positions is already in the departments’ budgets and the sustainability coordinator job will be paid for with several grants.
Overhiring police officers — using money saved from vacancies to hire for more than the number of officers allotted in the city’s budget — will help staffing issues, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said Tuesday.
Compared to similarly sized Oregon cities Medford (population 79,950), Hillsboro (population 100,865), Gresham (population 109,820) and Beaverton (population 95,865), Bend (population 86,765) has the fewest police officers but the second highest number of calls for service. Only Medford, which had 88,078 calls last year, is greater than Bend’s 87,213.
The number of calls in Bend, both emergency and non-emergency calls, has increased during the past few years. At the same time, the number of officer-initiated responses — such as traffic stops, downtown foot patrols and DUII enforcement — has decreased.
The city of Bend allocated funding for 94 officers, but the department typically ends up with only about 80 officers working, Porter said.
This results in more overtime and led to regular night shifts of just six patrol officers between 11:15 p.m. and 6 a.m. Flu season or scheduled training can wipe out most of the officers on a shift, too.
“When you go to the night shifts, six officers is not enough to police a city of this size at night,” Porter said. “It’s not safe for our officers and it’s not safe for the city.”
Bend Police can ask the Deschutes County Sheriff’s office and Oregon State Police to help on calls that require more officers, but those deputies and state troopers may be far away.
The Bend department has four officers who work as military reservists, two of whom are currently deployed. Unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act resulted in the equivalent of having 1.2 fewer officers working all year. Another half a position was lost to injured employees on worker compensation. And vacations, sick leave, administrative leave and retirements contribute to more vacancies.
“Officers are not staying like they used to for 30 years,” Porter said. “They’re retiring as soon as they become eligible.”
The department still pays officers who are on vacations, use sick days or are on paid administrative leave, but those who are deployed overseas, taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or are out injured aren’t paid by the city. The police department still has the money it would have spent on their salaries, though, and it plans to use that pot to hire the four additional officers.
By June 1, the Bend Police department expects to fill 11 vacancies, primarily by hiring already-certified officers from other Oregon departments who will require less training. It can take a year or more for new employees who have never been police officers before to be ready to patrol by themselves, and it’s harder to recruit qualified officers from other states because Oregon’s public employee retirement system is less generous than other states’ pensions, Porter said.
The fire department, meanwhile, plans to hire three additional firefighters/paramedics to cut down on the roughly $1.2 million it spends on overtime. Each new firefighter position costs the city about $125,000 annually for salaries, benefits and equipment costs, Deputy Chief Bill Boos said.
The overtime is included in the fire department’s budget, Boos said, but hiring three additional firefighters will save the city about $80,000 a year by reducing overtime costs.
“It’s a smart business decision,” Boos said.
Reducing overtime should also reduce stress for firefighters, he said.
“They work a 48-hour shift, so if they have to go into a 72-hour shift, it’s hard on them,” Boos said.
The department has 78 firefighter/paramedic positions and 24 emergency medical technicians, and it aims to have 28 employees working during the day and 25 at night, Battalion Chief Dave Howe said. Along with covering the city of Bend, the Bend fire department is responsible for fighting fires in another 252 square miles surrounding the city and providing emergency medical services to more than 1,600 square miles in Central Oregon.
The final new position the Bend City Council will vote on Wednesday is a short-term sustainability coordinator. The job is expected to last until December 2019, at which point the city expects to have finalized its plan to increase energy consumption and reduce fossil fuel usage.
Funding for the sustainability coordinator position and developing Bend’s climate action plan will come from a $50,000 private grant the city received this fall, a $50,000 match from the Oregon Community Foundation, $25,000 raised by the local nonprofit Environmental Center and a leftover $50,000 from a federal grant the city received as part of a 2009 stimulus package and could only spend on energy efficiency measures.
Wednesday’s City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Bend City Hall.
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