CLEVELAND — Cleveland city budget talks heated up this week as Cleveland City Council members met with Department of Public Safety leaders to go over funding for safety services, including police, fire and EMS staffing and salary.
The $1.8 billion budget proposal submitted by the new Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and his administration is calling for increasing Cleveland police staffing to 1,640 to help deal with officer shortages and projected 2022 officer retirements.
But some Cleveland council members like Brian Kazy are wondering if the budget proposal will be able to keep pace with safety forces shortages and attrition.
"Through attrition, we’re going to lose X amount, but we’ve only allocated for 180," Kazy said. “There’s no way Mr. Chairman to the Director in God’s green earth we’re ever going to be able to hit the number that we’re budgeting for.”
Cleveland City Councilman Michael Polensek, who is also Chairman of the Cleveland Safety Committee, told News 5 the Cleveland Police Department is currently operating with a shortage of about 195 officers.
Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association told News 5 the current average $67,300 police officer annual pay after ten years is simply not a competitive wage. Follmer said he's concerned a significant number of the more than 250 officers who have 25-years or more could leave the force for higher-paying police departments if the city doesn't reduce the current wage gap.
“The suburbs, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, they’re getting all of our guys because of the wages that they’re paying," Follmer said. “The critical time is going into summer, we’ve got to keep these guys, if we go down 300, 400 people, we’re not going to be able to function as a police department.”
“We’re in desperate times right now, we need to keep people, we need to get people in the academy class. If you go to Columbus, they’re at $103,000 or so, you go to any of the suburbs, there are in the mid-80s or the higher ’80s. We’re in the top 12 to 15th most dangerous city throughout the United States, we’re under the Dept. of Justice, morale is down, so it’s one of those things that the wages are very important.”
Mark Barrett, Vice President of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, told News 5 both he and the majority of his 280 members are optimistic current city budget talks will address the current wage disparity and help deal with staffing and recruitment shortages.
“We’re still running about 55 to 60 short," Barrett said, "It’s really just a revolving door. Hopefully, this administration can resolve it, and again we are hopeful.”
“We require the most education to maintain our jobs, yet we are the lowest paid. We’ve lagged so far behind over the years; something has to be done to catch us up. Westlake for example, they’re almost $30,000 ahead of us. Some hospital systems are paying incentive pay of $40 an hour. I mean how do you compete with that."
The City of Cleveland is mandated to pass the next city budget by April 1.