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Public-safety layoffs postponed

Fate of employees waits for mid-year budget review
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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The Jan. 1 layoffs of four Lincoln police officers and three firefighters are postponed at least a few weeks. That’s according to City Manager Jim Estep. Postponing the layoffs “will allow us time to discuss with the council” what to do with savings from six public-safety employees leaving the city, Esep said. City Council voted June 29 to lay off seven police officers, one community services officer and three firefighters, according to previous News Messenger reports. Estep said there are currently three police officers, one community services officer and three firefighters with pink slips. Savings from former employees come from Fire Chief Dave Whitt’s retirement and the five police officers who have “left earlier than we planned,” according to Estep. Whitt’s last day here is today. What to do with the savings will be discussed at the city’s mid-year budget review, which Estep said is “tentatively scheduled for Jan. 24.” “We will discuss all of the savings we may have accrued during the year that may have been anticipated or unanticipated,” Estep said. “Council will have to give me policy direction for how to deal with that balance, whether to spread that against the General Fund or apply any savings from fire to fire only and police to police only.” Whitt said the postponement of the layoffs “give us a little bit more time to plan for those layoffs.” “In the fire side, when we start losing people, we start having to move people around and change their shifts and work assignments,” Whitt said. “We have to make sure we have all the positions we need filled for being operational.” Extending the layoffs, Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said, “isn’t going to prevent (officers) from leaving” but gives them more time to find jobs with other law-enforcement agencies. “It’s keeping them employed and working, and will allow people more time to keep looking. A lot of it is based on revenue coming into the city,” Shelgren said. “As much time as we can get and extend this and keep our officers is a good thing.” The News Messenger asked Lincoln Police Officers Association (LPOA) President Keith Johnson about the layoff postponements in his department. “Unfortunately, it is still not enough,” Johnson said. “The LPOA will not be satisfied until all layoff notices are rescinded permanently and we are able to staff the police department to the efficient levels that the citizens and officers deserve.” Losing half of the police department over the past three years “has been extremely difficult for current police personnel, personally and professionally,” according to Johnson. Johnson also pointed out that “the police force is currently staffed with personnel (for) back when the city was roughly 12,000 people,” although Lincoln’s population today is 42,000. “The city of Auburn has 21 police personnel for 12,000 residents. We currently have 20 total,” Johnson said. “We will do our job the best we can and as hard as we can with what resources we have but it will be impossible to provide the same service we did a few years ago.” Crime has also risen, according to Johnson. He said there were two homicides in one year, compared to zero in the past 10 years, “not to mention the random stabbings that have taken place.” “Nothing good will have come from any layoffs in the past, now or in the future,” Johnson said. Evan Faddis, the Professional Fire Fighters Association president, said he “was glad to hear” about the layoff postponement, citing that “it is very difficult to find other firefighter jobs.” “The postponement will give the Fire Department more bodies on the fire engine,” Faddis said. “The Fire Department has zero overtime so we have been down to one engine in the city many times. As our staffing decreases, our risk of injury greatly increases as well as decreasing the service to the community.” Faddis also said the layoff extension will give the firefighters with pink slips “one more month of pay and a little more time to find another job.”