BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi may have to put people on the payroll in order help save taxpayer money. At a budget hearing Tuesday, the city council learned the police department is requesting more than $800,000 to pay for overtime expenses.
Over the last five years, overtime expenses for the Biloxi Police Department have consistently run in the six figure range.
"Somewhere around $500,000 and $600,000 depending on what events we had that year and what kind of weather we had," said Chief John Miller. "We have to budget enough so if we have another Katrina, Lord forbid. But if we do, we need to have the overtime to take care of it."
For the next fiscal year, the police department is asking the city to budget $800,000 for overtime. Some city council members wonder if it would be cheaper to hire additional patrol officers and other personnel.
"You've got to have x number of bodies out there every day. When you call somebody in who is supposed to be off, you are paying them time and a half," said Council Member Paul Tisdale. "So if we hire five more officers and throw them in the rotation, do we come out ahead paying five more officers and reducing the overtime?"
"Your problem is when we have these events, it's all hands on deck. It's not one or two or three officers," Biloxi Administrator David Nichols said. "We're talking about he [Chief Miller] pulls everybody he's got and puts them on the street for the big events. Cruisin' the Coast. Spring Break. It costs us a fortune those weekend. We've got to do it. One, two officers won't help. Won't faze us a bit."
City officials said $400,000 of the overtime request is for patrol officers. The rest is for detectives, dispatchers and other staff. The chief said police officers are required by law to do training, which they must do outside their work hours. Police officials said some overtime is later reimbursed by grants, but the department must still have the money from the city to make the initial payment.
Some city officials said what Biloxi can't afford to do is not provide police with additional manpower or enough money for overtime pay.
Council President Kenny Glavan said, "If you cut the overtime. If you went in and cut it 10 percent, that means you're limiting the hours of the existing bodies we have without adding anyone. So how does that help?"
City officials said the cost of hiring a patrol officer with benefits is about $65,000 a year. Chief John Miller said hiring additional officers will help reduce, but will not eliminate overtime expenses. He said because there was a hiring freeze for several years, the department is at risk of losing half its force in two years as officers reach retirement eligibility.