MANCHESTER — Keeping new police officers and firefighters on the payroll after federal grants run out could cost the city up to $2 million in 2016, according to figures presented by Mayor Ted Gatsas at an aldermen’s committee meeting Monday.
Gatsas presented the information in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade the Committee on Community Improvement from voting to accept and expend the $625,000 COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The committee still voted to accept the grant Monday, and the full board is expected to do the same when it meets today. The board last month voted to approve applications for the COPS grant, to support the hiring of five military veterans to the police force, and about $1.2 million in SAFER program funding from the Department of Homeland Security to hire eight firefighters.
According to the mayor’s figures, compiled with assistance from the city Finance Department, the COPS grant funded positions will cost the city nearly $1 million in 2016. This includes $259,729 for the five new officers hired this year, and another $720,587 for another 18 positions partially funded through previous COPS grants.
The program covers salaries and benefits for officers for two years, while committing the city to cover these costs in the third year. Only after the third year could the city lay off any officers.
Gatsas said the city was taking on unsustainable costs by accepting the grant.
“I understand we’ve always done grants in the past,” he said. “The problem is we’ve never done grants with a (tax) cap in place. I still believe our economy in a very fragile position.”
Alderman William Shea responded that he owed it to his constituents to get as many police on the streets as possible.
“We’ve had a very dangerous situation in Ward 7. We’ve had murders. I didn’t vote for the fire department extensions, but I did vote for this. I think we need as many police as we can get,” he said.
The Fire Department SAFER grant would cost the city close to $1.1 million factoring in cost-of-living and pension cost increases to maintain the eight positions in 2016, according to the mayor’s figures. The city’s costs were estimated at $600,000 when the grant was discussed before the aldermen voted to approve it last month.
The committee did not deal with the Fire Department grant on Monday.