Hirings may hurt chances for grant

A decision to hire three police officers this year could cost Bellevue Borough a federal grant that could have paid for two full-time officers.

Bellevue joined nearly 7,300 communities across the nation in applying for a Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grant through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) COPS Hiring Recovery Fund. Part of the federal economic stimulus plan, the grant program will fully pay for as many as two police officers in a particular community for as long as three years.

With $1 billion to distribute and more than $8 billion in requests, competition is expected to be fierce, and federal officials will be looking to the program’s goal of helping towns who have been unable to fund needed police officer positions.

That is not the case in Bellevue. The 2009 budget includes funding for two new officers. Council is expected to approve resolutions at its June 2 meeting to hire James D. Dold and Aaron P. Nutter.

Mayor George Doscher also asked that council take steps to hire a third officer, who would fill a vacancy that will be left with the June retirement of Sgt. Richard Czapko.

Council member Jane Braunlich stated at the May 27 pre-council meeting that she had spoken with someone in U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle’s office, who said that the COPS grant could be used to fill existing vacant positions as long as they were deemed “unfunded.”

Braunlich argued that a report by treasurer Paul Cusick last month that put the borough some $200,000 in the red was grounds for holding off on the hirings and considering the positions to be unfunded.

Cusick said Wednesday that the deficit resulted from errors in overlapping payments that have been corrected.

Braunlich said that filling the positions will bring the number of officers to 14, and make it “hard to justify” hiring more with grant funds.

Communities are expected to learn by Sept. 30 whether they have been awarded a COPS grant.