Monday evening, Ann Arbor City Council convened for its first work session on the city’s fiscal year 2017 budget, which is slated to be passed in May. Staff retention in the Ann Arbor Police Department and funding for the city’s ongoing deer cull were among the most contentious budgeting factors discussed at the meeting.
Ann Arbor’s budget is determined over a two-year process, and this is the second year in that process. However, City Treasurer Matthew Horning said there are still many important new factors to consider.
“It’s a much easier process than last year, but we still have some decisions to make,” Horning said at the start of the meeting.
Along with policing, Larry Collins, Ann Arbor’s interim community services area administrator, discussed funding for the city’s ongoing deer cull.
The deer cull was initially budgeted as a one-time cost of $20,000 for 2017, but Collins said the actual cost of the project will be around $35,000.
Collins said no current bill exists to account for the total costs of the cull. Before the cull began, the city agreed in its contract with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to receive a bill at the end of the first quarter of the process. The cull began Jan. 2, 2016.
Collins said he was unsure how much the culling activities will cost in the upcoming years. A city meeting to discuss potentially using nonlethal methods for the cull will be held with city residents on Friday.
“We just don’t have the data yet … we’re not done,” Collins said. “My hope and my belief is that $35,000 won’t be needed for the cull in the upcoming year.”
Ann Arbor residents have complained since the summer of 2015 about the lack of transparency from city officials regarding the cull’s costs and the details and effects of the cull.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said she disapproved of Collins’ inability to provide clear parameters of the cost of the cull. Collins said he does not know at this time the amount of funding required to complete the deer cull.
City Administrator Tom Crawford promised to provide Briere and other city councilmembers with written updates containing information about the costs of the deer cull. He did not specify when those updates would be distributed.
Robin Wilkerson, director of Ann Arbor’s Human Resources, addressed issues associated with staff retention on the AAPD with the council. Wilkerson said due to the average age of the current police force there is an expected increase in retirement rates in the upcoming years.
According to Wilkerson, officers typically retire after about 25 years on the job. The percentage of officers eligible for retirement is expected to increase by about 22 percent — from 10 percent to about 32 percent — within the next three years.
It is expected there are currently four to six Ann Arbor police officers who will become eligible for retirement between now and July, which makes up 50 percent of the department’s staff. If these individuals retire as scheduled and positions are not filled, the police force will be running at half-capacity in the coming months.
Wilkerson said the ongoing issue of officer retention stems from the improving economy.
“With the better economy, it takes longer to find good candidates to fill the positions,” she said. “That goes across all jobs, including managerial, nonunion and police and fire.”
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) said he agreed that improvement in the economy is making it harder to fill these important positions.
“Recession is an employer’s job market,” Ackerman said.
Wilkerson added that vacancies in the police and fire departments are especially difficult to fill because applicants are not hired individually, but rather as groups completing training together, to ensure efficient initial field training, which means the positions won’t be filled immediately when the retirements occur. She said it can take 36 to 40 weeks after hiring before an officer works alone in the field when factoring in the extensive hiring and training processes.
“There will be vacancies between now and July that we won’t fill purposefully to make sure that we can fill a class,” she said.
Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) asked Wilkerson whether any extra funding designated for this initiative would rollover for future years, to which Wilkerson said the city must be adequately prepared and responsible for the possibility of this situation.
She added that the amount of money allocated to new officer training will depend on how much notice the city staff receives prior to officers’ retirements and how long it takes to hire a replacement.
Crawford said having such a vacuum in the force’s staff would be an embarrassment to the city.
“Almost every (vacant) position feels like it’s a point of failure,” Crawford said.