The city of Streator returned to an earlier discussion regarding the use of part-time police officers without guns.
The City Council met Tuesday to continue talks of implementing community service officers (CSOs) as a way to curb future pension obligations and relieve the 70 percent of the city’s general fund that goes toward personnel costs.
“I believe CSOs, if crafted the right way, is a classic example of trying to do more with less,” said City Manager Scot Wrighton.
City staff found 55 out of 98 cities in the state between 10,000 and 20,000 in population currently use CSOs.
Their duties vary from community to community but most perform work such as fingerprinting or monitoring traffic at an accident where a sworn officer with a weapon, and a higher salary, is not required.
Wrighton led the discussion by clarifying the introduction of community service officers would not replace the current full-time police officers but may be introduced through attrition if the early introduction of the officers is a success. He said the city would find the right mix of part-time and full-time staff as the positions are introduced and the need is determined.
The Times reached out to Joel Hoffmeyer, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 153, after the meeting. He said the officers are in favor of discussing CSOs with the city as long as they don’t replace the current staff or replace full-time officers.
Hoffmeyer said the union has not “fiercely resisted” attempts to introduce part-time employees to the department, despite wording in council documents provided to the council by Wrighton.
CSOs will not respond
to calls with potential for violence
Councilman Joe Scarbeary said his initial concerns reside with sending an unarmed officer into unknown situations.
Police Chief Kurt Pastirik said CSOs would not respond to any call relating to a crime in progress or could lead to potential violence, such as noisy parties or suspicious persons or noises.
“Any call which would constitute a hazard for an unarmed person to go to, they’re not going to be sent to it,” Pastirik said.
Resident Toni Pettit said she understood the economic reasons behind considering the new positions but asked what improvements they would make to general public safety.
Wrighton said the introductions of CSOs is relatively new and crime trend data isn’t available, but said anecdotally he’s heard from other cities that it has deterred crime because it leads to more eyes on the community.
Councilman Ed Brozak suggested the responsibilities of the position needed more clarifications and Scarbeary expressed interest in having more salary information to ensure the city saves money by implementing the officers.
Council members Brian Crouch and Tara Bedei were interested in continuing research into CSOs with Bedei stating she’s thinking more about the idea after seeing a CSO overseeing an accident following a fender bender in Oswego.
“For me, I’d rather have a police officer fighting crime than maybe putting a baby seat in a car or going to unlock a car,” Bedei said. “Those are the types of tasks I’d rather have someone else handle.”
Discussion sparked by general fund projections
The discussion on CSOs came following a presentation by Chief Financial Officer Wes Levy, of Lauterbach & Amen, wherein he explained the budget is close to expected for the mid-year point but also projected the expenditures could drastically exceed revenues for the general fund in the years to come.
Scarbeary, a member of the Streator Fire Department, floated his original plans by Levy and the council once again including a proposed half-cent sales tax increase and issuing municipal bonds to help pay the city’s pension obligations before the deadline in 2040.
He insinuated the CSOs or instituting part-time workers wouldn’t solve the full problem.
“It’s basically putting a band-aid on a gushing wound,” Scarbeary said. “You’ll be lucky to see anything by 2050.”
Levy said the council should consider a number of options but said the conversation can continue when the council has its latest actuary report in the coming weeks.
He echoed previous concerns that issuing debt is not “the most prudent option” given the market could tank and leave the council with no additional funds.
Scarbeary said the money would always remain accessible and it avoids having to raise the property tax.
“My suggestion is to not wait too long because we’re losing money,” Scarbeary said. “If you bond it out and the market stays steady then we’re losing money every day.”
“What if the market doesn’t stay steady, then you’ll lose money,” Crouch added.
The council will revisit the discussion when the latest actuarial information is available.