GALVESTON — Citing a need for more officers to combat a growing drug problem in the city and to handle increased administrative tasks required by state law, the police department Monday asked the City Council to fund 12 new positions in next year’s budget.
The department requested a $1.16 million increase to its $16.9 million budget, of which $608,000 would pay for personnel costs. The department has 177 positions in the current budget with a total salary cost of about $13.9 million.
“We’re treading water right now,” police Chief Henry Porretto said. “We’re not attacking the root cause of crimes.”
The request includes money for four new officers that police officials said are needed to counter “an explosive growth in narcotic and meth activity on the island.”
The department’s narcotics team, staffed by three officers and a sergeant, made more than 400 arrests and seized more than 3,200 grams of methamphetamine in 2013, a 1,600 percent increase compared to the year before, police officials said.
The other eight positions would include three telecommunication operators, two crime scene technicians, a police fleet vehicle specialist and two employees responsible for record keeping.
District Attorney Jack Roady told the council that changes to state discovery laws had increased the amount of administrative work that needs to be done by both his and the police department’s staff.
The Michael Morton Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires prosecutors to release all evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence to defense attorneys. The law increased the amount of largely mundane work such as copying, storing and delivering documents that law enforcement agencies must do, Roady said.
Police Capt. Jeffery Heyse, who made the department’s budget pitch, said the department is still feeling the effects of layoffs made in 2010.
The proposal included civilian positions because officers are filling those support roles now, he said.
“We have officers in positions that officers don’t need to be in,” Heyse said. Making new civilian hires would allow officers to return to regular police duties, he said.
The department also proposed $350,000 for a vehicle storage facility and $200,000 for a police property room
The request has not been reviewed by the city’s finance department, Director Beth Free said.
After the request is reviewed, interim City Manager Brian Maxwell will decide whether to include it in his recommended budget to council.
Monday’s meeting included presentations from various city department managers about individual successes and needs. No decisions regarding the budget were made. The budget is expected to be passed in mid-September.
Maxwell said he asked department heads to give honest assessments of their needs in the budget, which has been held level in recent years.
Maxwell said he did not think the entire police department request would be in his recommended budget, but parts of it could be.
According to a budget primer produced for the council by the finance department, the city’s general fund is already poised to contribute new money to the police department this year. A grant the city received in 2012 to hire eight officers is set to expire Dec. 31. The city will have to budget $411,000 to pay for those positions.
The city is also expected to enter contract negotiations with police and fire unions this year, although that topic was not addressed in depth at Monday’s meeting.