The White House announced Tuesday that it will give Schenectady a $1.8 million grant to hire eight police officers.
But the City Council, which applied for the grant reluctantly in April, may not accept it. And Mayor Brian U. Stratton said Monday that he wants labor contract concessions before he hires any additional officers.
Once the grant was announced Tuesday, Stratton said he might accept it — but only if he’s sure the city could afford to pay the additional officers three years from now when the grant runs out.
“I’m very concerned about the long-term cost,” he said, adding that his staff will do a financial analysis and present it to the council.
“I want a thorough analysis,” he said. “I’m not saying no — I’m being very cautious.”
Councilman Mark Blanchfield, the council’s most vocal opponent to the grant in April, agreed with Stratton. While Blanchfield wants the ongoing contract negotiations to lead to major reforms, he said he would be willing to hire officers without first finishing the negotiations.
“Look, the mayor makes a very good point. We really need to be looking at productivity with our existing police officers. It has been said that even slight modifications here or there can give us man-hours equivalent to new hires for a little more pay,” Blanchfield said. “But at this point, if we have the resources, I support the grant. I cautiously support it.”
For Councilman Gary McCarthy the timing of the grant announcement was perfect. Less than 12 hours after he made a televised argument detailing the need for more officers the city got the money to implement his plan.
But he admitted that it will be difficult. This year, 20 to 25 officers are retiring — a much higher number than normal — and seven others may be fired. The grant requires that the city hire eight officers above its normal strength — which may mean trying to test, interview and hire 35 to 40 officers at once.
In the past, the city has struggled to hire 10 officers at one time.
“The number may limit our ability to utilize this money,” McCarthy said. “That may tax our ability to find candidates.”
But he said it’s “not impossible” to find that many qualified local applicants — particularly if the city increases recruit-level pay.
“Our pay scale has been drifting a little bit to the lower end,” he said. “We make our list of who we want to hire, and they sometimes get multiple offers. It’s a point we have to look at.”
He argued that the city must accept the grant despite the difficulties.
“The grant recognizes the need for public safety. Schenectady clearly has that need,” he said. “We’ve got to, I believe, have this enforcement component so you can attract husbands and wives and 2.3 kids to owner-occupied housing.”
He noted that President Barack Obama and all of New York’s top politicians, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, support the grant, which is part of $1 billion in grants from the Obama administration to help keep police officers on the beat during the economic downturn.
The COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant was announced by Vice President Joseph Biden, and Gillibrand was among many who quickly issued statements supporting it.
McCarthy said such support would force his colleagues to approve the grant. “I assume they’re all looking to work with the president and vice preseident and will favorably support this.”
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