Warner Robins officer vacancies at center of budget discussion
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. -- The city of Warner Robins budgets $1.5 million for new positions each year, but its police department is 18 officers short of being fully staffed.
Police Chief Brett Evans said that five officers have left the force since the beginning of 2018 and the department is actively trying to recruit new people to reach its authorized number of 125 officers.
Evans said that the recurring officer shortages aren't because of people who leave, but like many law enforcement agencies, the Warner Robins Police Department is having a hard time hiring new officers.
Warner Robins Chief Financial Officer Holly Gross said that every year the city budgets $1.5 million in positions that ultimately remain vacant. She said that money winds up going back into the general fund if it's not used.
About half - $789,000 - of that $1.5 million of unfilled vacancies are 18 unfilled positions that the Warner Robins Police Department currently has.
Tuesday evening the Warner Robins city council reviewed the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which now includes a 2.5 mil increase. If passed, this rise in taxes is estimated to add about $4 million revenue for next year.
Despite the $1.5 million designated for new positions, multiple council members said Warner Robins needs the mil increase. Mayor Randy Toms said he'd want to see funds generated from it going towards public safety.
Community members agree that Warner Robins needs more police officers. David Reid said the city has too few officers and that the officer-civilian ratio is well below the state and national average.
There are about 65,000 residents of Warner Robins and 108 officers serving on its police department. That leaves 1.6 officers per 1,000 people, but the recommended average is 2.5 officers per 1,000 people.
Reid said public safety would be better served if the city had more officers patrolling the streets who could be proactive instead of reactive.
Multiple council members suggested that the proposed mil increase shouldn't be necessary, since the $1.5 million allotted for public positions ends up going back into the general fund each year.
Councilman Keith Lauritsen said the budget should set aside more money out of the general fund, knowing that it'll be replaced at the end of the year because of the vacant positions.