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City officials look for other ways to pay for public safety

City officials are trying to find other ways to pay for public safety after about 60 percent of voters rejected Proposition One in Columbia Tuesday.

If it was approved, it would have boosted property taxes by another 30 cents per 100 dollars of assessed value. That money would have gone toward hiring 40 additional police officers and 15 firefighters.

The Department of Justice says for every 1,000 residents, a police department should have about 2.5 police officers. And the Columbia Police Officers’ Association says the City of Columbia only has about 1.4.

Dale Roberts with the CPOA said because of the staffing shortage, current police officers are being pushed to the limit.

Dale Roberts, Columbia Police Officers’ Association: “And as a result of that, the officers are working, and this is almost unheard of, they work twelve hour shifts. So they’re working 12 hours on, 12 hours off, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, they are required to do all training on their day off. They work a tremendous amount of overtime and it really stretches them pretty thin.”

After Proposition One failed Tuesday night, Mayor Bob McDavid said over the last 10 years, public safety staffing has decreased by nearly 13 percent.

He said if the city continues to fund public safety the way it does now, Columbia will have even smaller police and fire departments in the future.

Currently, public safety is only paid for by the city’s general fund which is about $84 million. That money comes from the sales tax. The public safety budget takes about half of that fund.

The problem is, money generated by sales tax is decreasing each year because of online purchases. Mayor McDavid said that revenue has dropped 20 percent over the past 15 years.

Roberts said the city needs to come up with another way to pay for public safety soon because it is creating a less safe environment.

Roberts: “Staffing is so short with the department it hurts recruiting because people aren’t really energized about coming to work for a department where they’re going to be working so much overtime so it makes it hard to recruit. It makes it hard to retain because it’s just a tough environment in which to work. And it makes for a less safe community.”

Wednesday, Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick said the city is failing people now when it comes to public safety. And Councilman Michael Trapp said police will need to look at what services it can no longer provide.

Despite Tuesday’s rejection of Proposition One, about 90 percent of people surveyed last year said public safety is one of the most important services provided by the city.

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