After police chief Tom Barndt detailed his department’s current staffing issues, Lower Saucon Township Council voted 5-0 Wednesday to authorize the department to hire four additional officers.
Barndt explained to council that his department’s current staffing has been stretched thin by a variety of circumstances.
The department has 12 full-time officers, of whom two are currently “out on workman’s comp” and two are off work under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirements, he said.
The police are already facing scheduling issues due to the absence of the four officers and minimum staffing requirements, Barndt said, and those could be exacerbated if another officer retires next month.
Three part-time officers who work for the department have “limited availability,” he said, because of their full-time jobs and other obligations such as a National Guard deployment.
Two of the part-timers are on the department’s current full-time eligibility list–meaning they’ve passed the physical and written exams–along with a third person, Barndt said.
“Part-time officers are hard to come by,” he acknowledged. “Nobody wants to come and do this job if they’re not getting benefits, higher salary (and a) contract locked in for 40 hours.” He said the department has only received four applications for a part-time officer position over the past six months.
“Once our eligibility list is exhausted, we have nobody, so I’m going to have to advertise,” Barndt told council. “That’s where we stand with staffing issues right now.”
In response to a question from council president Jason Banonis, Barndt said that adding four full-time officers would allow the department to add a fourth officer to each of its four patrol teams, which currently only have three officers at the most. “If we add a fourth officer to each patrol team…we can have more police on the street, obviously,” he said, adding that scheduling will also become “much easier.”
Township manager Mark Hudson said the current yearly cost to the township to employ one full-time officer–including pension and benefits–is approximately $140,000 “to start.”
Banonis questioned township financial director Cathy Gorman about the township’s budget surplus, which she said includes over $5 million in reserves, with $3 million in unrestricted reserve.
“So is it fair to say that through sound fiscal management we have the money to pay for this if we need to, if we so vote?” Banonis asked Gorman, who answered “yes.”
He then made a motion directing Hudson and Barndt to proceed with hiring four full-time police officers, which will involve work to identify a fourth candidate.
Barndt said the hires will help solve the current staffing woes, which have come at a particularly busy time for the department as it continues to investigate a string of burglaries.
The next Lower Saucon Township Council meeting will be held Wednesday, March 22 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting was to have been held March 15, but council voted to reschedule it.