Panel backs hiring police secretary, dispatch supervisor

SALEM – The Finance Committee of city council gave its blessing Thursday night for the police department to hire a part-time secretary, hire a dispatchers’ supervisor and purchase a new cruiser.

Now all three recommendations will come before city council for a vote. Two other requests for money by Mayor John Berlin for a one-time payment to non-bargaining full-time employees and for a wage increase for the streets foreman were tabled.

The Finance Committee agreed to take up those issues during the next committee meeting set for 6:30 p.m. May 9.

Funding for a part-time police secretary had been a request by the previous police chief that was taken up again by his successor, Chief J.T. Panezott, who questioned having the department’s two highest paid members doing secretarial work. That’s been the case since the layoff of the department’s full-time secretary a few years ago, with the duties falling to the chief and the administrative lieutenant and some of the work falling to the wayside.

Earlier this year, former Chief Bob Floor requested at least a part-time secretary to handle some of the paperwork, resulting in the part-time position being created, but not funded. Panezott renewed the request to hire a part-time secretary, with Berlin supporting the request.

Berlin pointed out that with the Columbiana County Commissioners offering up to $20,000 to cities contributing a full-time officer to the DTF, the money will be there to cover the expense of a part-time secretary. At this time, the DTF officer is part-time, but plans call for him to go to full-time in the near future.

The mayor estimated that at $11.40 per hour for 25 hours per week, the annual cost could be about $17,487. The request was for up to 28 hours per week.

Panezott said the department’s income could actually increase because the secretary could started billing again for alarm calls and send letters out to help collect on parking tickets. He said they estimated the department lost out on about $5,000 from not billing for the alarm calls.

With more enforcement also comes more paperwork, with arrests up 100 over last year at this time, including drug arrests. Panezott said he would be free to work on more grants, work on updating policies and procedures and work on the street if he had a secretary.

For the dispatchers’ supervisor, city Auditor Betty Brothers said the person titled as telecommunications supervisor would receive an increase of 60 cents per hour, making their rate $12 per hour, to take care of scheduling and training of dispatchers. Police supervisors do the scheduling now. Panezott said he just lost one of his best dispatchers to another agency and he’s currently taking applications for substitute dispatchers. All dispatchers work part-time.

The committee also agreed to make a recommendation of appropriating $32,000 from capital improvements for the purchase of a new Ford Taurus police cruiser. City Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst said the last time the city bought a police cruiser out of capital money was eight years ago. The police department has been relying on its money from the Drug Enforcement Administration to purchase cars and equipment.

Plans call for the department to buy one car with DEA funds and then one with the city capital improvement money. Kenst explained they got a quote from Donnell Ford of Salem for $31,386 and one from StateWide, which is state purchasing, for $34,185. He requested permission to buy the vehicle from Donnell.

Berlin explained they want to get on a rotation where they’re buying two cars per year.

In other business, the committee tabled action on a one-time payment to non-bargaining full-time employees of 2.25 percent of their total wages paid in 2012. The cost of the payments would total $10,257 for the workers under the general fund, such as the fire chief, non-bargaining police lieutenant, service director, deputy auditor, administrative assistant and others. He also asked that the utilities department and parks department be asked to do the same, at an estimated cost of $8,734 for utilities and $2,091 for the parks.

Berlin said a permanent wage increase could not be recommended, but he thought they deserved a recognition for their efforts and noted that they received nothing in 2011 and 2012 while union workers received wage increases. He said their efforts contributed to the city having a carryover of more than $1 million for 2012.

Committee Chairman Councilman K. Bret Apple said he had nothing against the employees, but he had a problem with the request, noting that given the projected deficit being forecast for the city, these requests of $10,000 here and $10,000 there start to add up.

Brothers also threw out a caution for spending, asking them to be careful and noting they’ve been doing a lot of spending the past couple of Finance Committee meetings. Berlin said he thought this was the first request he was making out of the carryover.

The committee tabled the request for now, along with a request to increase the street foreman’s pay to $23.71 per hour, an increase of $2.12 per hour, to fix what Berlin considered a disparity with other supervisors in other departments and what they make compared to the next highest paid employee in their respective departments.

Councilman Dave Nestic, a committee member, asked for a comparison with other communities, instead of comparing to other departments whose supervisors may have to have a different level of training.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at