GARY | The city is expected to follow the lead of other cities like Benton Harbor, Mich., in cross-training police and firefighters.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who spoke about the proposal at Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting, said the idea could help hold down costs while providing more of a police presence on the streets.
Freeman-Wilson said training could be done both internally and externally. The incentive for public safety officers to acquire such skills would be an increase in pay as well as a chance to increase their marketability, she said.
The city's proposed budget for next year already calls for a $5,000 increase in pay for police and firefighters. This follows an earlier $2,500 increase approved for the current year. Freeman-Wilson also is proposing another $2,500 increase for 2017.
With the proposed raise for next year, a patrol officers would see their pay increase from $41,804 to $46,804. As a public safety officer trained in both police and firefighting skills, Freeman-Wilson said a person would be paid more than $50,000. Cost savings, she said, would come from needing fewer people overall in the two departments.
Freeman-Wilson thought it might be next year before the city would see its first public safety officers and indicated there would always be those who want to do one job or the other and not both.
Councilman Ron Brewer asked Freeman-Wilson about the possibility of some other city luring the public safety officers away once they complete their training in Gary. Freeman-Wilson said that at one time the city required officers to have to pay back the cost of their training if they did not serve three years with the city and the administration is looking into the possibility of re-instituting such a policy in the city.
Freeman-Wilson's other proposal would involve merging departments in areas such as general services, maintenance, vehicle maintenance, recycling, and other areas in both the city and sanitary district to better deal with calls for service, such as potholes, tree trimming and code enforcement issues. Freeman-Wilson said some of the same duties being performed by workers with the sanitary district were being performed by city workers.
In addition to combining forces with the sanitary district, Freeman-Wilson said workers will be cross-trained. She said there are no plans to lay off workers under this plan, but by combining forces the calls for service from citizens through the 3-1-1 line can be handled more efficiently. Freeman-Wilson said there are currently about 1,500 such calls currently pending in the city. She also said the cross-training would be good for employees by giving them more skills.