County police Chief Robert Russell says he will hire 15 new officersin January to fill vacancies if his proposed budget is approved by County Executive Robert R. Neall and the County Council -- even thoughhis present officers have agreed to furloughs to avoid layoffs.
Russell is scheduled to appear before the council at 2 p.m. today to talk about his new budget plan. He said Tuesday his revised budget includes enough money to fill 15 of the department's 39 vacancies. The other 24, he said, would remain open until the end of fiscal 1992 in June.
Dennis Howell, vice president of the county police union, said hehas been fielding phone calls from officers upset over new hirings. The officers, he said, feel like they are being ripped off.
"I don't think anybody around here will deny that we need more officers," Howell said. "The problem is going to be that it comes across as, we gave up to buy more people."
Russell, however, said there is no wayhe could give back the money to the officers.
"We certainly don'thave that option," Russell said. "That money would have to go back to everyone else in the county. There is no way I can, say, hold 15 or24 vacancies open and give the money back to the officers. Other county employees would march on the police department. The officers havegot to understand that."
Police spokesman Officer V. Richard Molloy said it costs the county about $75,000 per officer a year. That figure covers training, equipment, salary and medical benefits.
Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for Neall, said any new hires would be subjectto wage concessions or furloughs that would be prorated from their date of hire.
She added that Neall has said he has heard of no plans to hire more officers.
Russell said he needs to fill the 15 vacancies to maintain minimum staffing -- 263 officers -- on the streets."If we had to carry more than 24 vacancies, then we would have to pull people from other areas of the department to keep patrol at full strength," he said.
Some officers, however, feel they were not toldthe whole story when asked to vote on the furloughs.
"A lot of the callers are saying that if they would have know this was going to happen, they would have agreed to layoffs," Howell said.
The CountyDetention Center union, he noted, voted to accept layoffs. Three officers lost their job, with the agreement they would be the first rehired. Interviews for additional corrections officers were being held last week.
Howell said police union officials met with Russell Tuesday and brought that point up. Russell said he did not know if any laid off officers would be hired back.
"So who knows?" Howell said. "This is not being well-received among the troops. But no one should be upset until we see what happens."
Originally, when faced with the choice of wage cuts or layoffs, the county police union voted to give up nothing. Under pressure from county officials, they agreed to take the furloughs.
Neall said he needed all county employees to accept wage cuts, furloughs or layoffs, in order to cover a $7.9 million loss in state aid.
Last year, the county police union was the first in the county to give up a 7 percent cost of living pay increaseto in order to help the county government balance its budget.