By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — The Goshen City Council met with city department heads Tuesday afternoon for the council’s annual retreat, and while numerous subjects were touched on over the course of the nearly four-hour meeting, perhaps the most prevalent was the call for more employees.
The past few years have not been easy for city government, with events such as the recession that reared its head in 2008 coupled with state-mandated property tax caps combining to deal a dramatic blow to the city’s coffers.
In reaction to that sudden loss in revenue, city department heads were quickly called to reign in spending and do what they could with budgets significantly smaller than in previous years. In many cases, that meant the loss of employees or the decision not to fill vacant positions.
On Tuesday, numerous city department heads and representatives went before the council to provide summaries of what they would like to see for their departments in 2013 and 2014. For many, those summaries included often passionate appeals for more manpower.
Goshen Police Chief Wade Branson was among the first to appeal for additional employees, noting that while he has done what he could to cut costs and manpower over the past couple of years, those cuts — coupled with a growing city population and significantly increased calls for service — are beginning to take their toll.
“I’m here to tell you that the smoke and mirrors is over,” Branson said. “We need additional manpower.”
Branson noted that Goshen currently employs 58 officers when in reality the department should be working with between 73 and 76 officers when considering Goshen’s population of approximately 32,000 permanent residents as well as the several thousand additional non-residents who commute to the city for work. Branson also noted that calls for service this year from last year have increased by more than 1,000, resulting in a significant increase in overtime hours due to lack of available bodies.
“The Bureau of Justice in 2008 recommended that cities maintain 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents,” Branson said. “The city of Elkhart is 2.41 per 1,000, South Bend is 2.49 per 1,000, and Nappanee is 2.23 per 1,000. Based on the 2010 census, our officers per 1,000 is 1.83. If I add the additional population (since 2010), we’re about 1.75. So using the 2.3 figure, we should be right around 73 officers.”
While acknowledging that he does not expect the city to hire that many additional officers, he did indicate he will be requesting an additional two officers in the 2014 budget.
Goshen Street Commissioner Denny Long also indicated Tuesday that he will be requesting two new positions for the 2014 budget.
“Back in 1986 there were 18 employees at the Street Department compared to 16 today,” Long said. “I’m sure the amount of area that we now cover and the work load has increased, but the bodies have decreased. The dedicated staff and updated, reliable equipment are the reasons that we provide the level of service that’s possible today. But that will only take us so far. In the future, as we continue to grow, staffing will be a bigger issue as employees take their benefit time, leaving less manpower on a daily basis.”
In addition, Long noted that demand for street department services has grown significantly over the past couple of years, creating even more of an issue when it comes to workload.
“Between our regular road maintenance programs, the other things that are asked of us have and are creating a real time/manpower crunch,” Long said. “It is tough to think of any event held in this city that does not require the street department’s participation. From First Fridays to neighborhood block parties, fireworks, ice cream socials, parades, memorials, and the list goes on, the street department is there providing some kind of assistance.”
For her part, City Judge Gretchen Lund noted that while she will not be asking for any additional employees for 2014, her current staff has been reduced to the point where any further reductions would begin to cause problems in the future.
“We currently have three full-time employees and one part-time employee and then myself as judge. We had five full-time employees when I started,” Lund said. “So the work hasn’t decreased, but because of the efficiencies and things that we’ve put in place, with one employee retiring and one position being assumed by the police department, we’re able to do our clerk office with three full-time and one part-time employees. I wouldn’t want to, nor do I think we could, go any less than that simply from the logistics standpoint.”
Goshen Utilities Engineer Dustin Sailor, presenting his wish list for the city’s Stormwater Management Department, indicated he too will be requesting a new position for 2014 in the form of a new, full-time Stormwater Utility employee.
In explaining his request, Sailor said he feels that over the past couple of years it seems he has been able to do less and less actual engineering work due to increased demand for his time in other areas — something he said he hopes the new position will help to remedy.
Parks and Rec
Sheri Howland, superintendent of the Goshen Parks and Recreation Department, was perhaps the most vocal of the day’s speakers in her call for the need to fill vacancies within the department that have been in place since 2009.
“For the past several years, like all other departments, Parks has been asked to look at how we do what we do for efficiencies. We have done that and more,” Howland said. “We have cut staff, combined positions, reduced mowing frequencies, reviewed fee schedules and evaluated programming. Even with cutbacks, participation and revenues continue to grow. Staff has worked long hours and many have forfeited their weekends to provide for Parks and Recreation in Goshen. It is not possible to continue this pace.”
In addition to the cutbacks in employees and services, Howland noted that securing adequate volunteer work has also grown increasingly difficult. Finding and retaining enough part-time workers is also becoming an issue, she said.
“This team can no longer absorb maintenance of this growth. We are requesting the vacancies within the park staff be reinstated. The workload has become much too difficult for the park team to provide the same high level of services experienced in the past without these vacancies being reinstated,’ Howland said.