YORK — City leaders who clashed over police and fire staffing needs during a budget debate earlier this year have agreed to hire one more police officer and a firefighter in January.
York City Council members voted unanimously last week to spend about $100,000, including salary and benefits, for the two entry-level public safety positions.
“We spent three months figuring out how to pay for these things,” said York Mayor Eddie Lee, referring to several executive-session meetings held to discuss police and fire staffing needs.
“What this does is meet the need in the area of public safety,” Lee said.
City Manager Charles Helms said he had enough money in the city’s contingency fund to hire another police officer. The council also approved a financial agreement that will generate revenue for fire department personnel by billing insurance companies for specialized rescue operations used in car accidents.
In the past, Helms said, the city received no financial compensation for those services.
Helms said the police and fire departments still have staffing needs but that the two hires mark a start. He said the police officer will be a night-shift position because there has been a need for that shift.
“We still have some more needs in those departments, and we’re going to look at it again next year,” Helms said.
Helms said city officials would like to hire a second narcotics officer to serve on York County’s multijurisdictional drug unit. York has only one officer on the unit, though it agreed to have two when the unit was formed.
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett presented an impassioned plea to council members in September to bring to two the number of York narcotics officers on the countywide drug unit.
After listening to Bryant, Brackett and York Fire Chief Dominic Manera, who gave a presentation on fire staffing needs in the nine-employee department, the council voted 4-3 in September to approve a $6.6million budget with no tax or fee hikes and no additional staff.
Council members Denise Lowry, Charles Johnson and Ed Brown opposed the budget, saying they could not support it after hearing details about police and fire staffing needs.
Johnson said Monday the two hires are a good start. “We are going to need more than that, but that’s a start,” said Johnson, adding he believes the hires are badly needed.
“You always got to protect your people, and both of those do that,” he said. “We don’t have enough policemen; and we are building a fire station, but you gotta have people to run it.”
Johnson said he expects the council will talk about hiring more public safety workers next year. “We gotta start somewhere,” he said.
Helms said he expects the new fire station, planned by the city on Arrow Road near the S.C. 5 Bypass, to open about mid-2015. He said the station, which will take about a year to complete, probably will be bid in mid-2014.
“We’re going to need maybe three people over there before it’s over, when the fire station is built,” Johnson said.
Helms said the fire department will receive revenue to pay for personnel from a fee-for-fire-engine-response agreement the council approved with York County for motor vehicle accidents that require specialized rescue and cleanup operations.
The fees are billed to motor-vehicle insurance companies, Helms said.
Under the agreement, fees would be collected by InnovaPad, a Greenville-based company that serves fire departments by billing insurance companies for time and expenses related to such incidents.
Helms said the service has about a 50percent recovery rate. He said the billing, used by other municipal fire departments, applies only to motor vehicle accidents.