Conroe City Council members faced a dilemma over requested additions to the city’s police and fire departments for the fiscal year 2021-22 budget at an Aug. 11 council workshop.
The proposed positions came in at the council members’ retreat July 25, and consist of seven police officers, three sergeants and two lieutenants. Eight firefighter positions have also been requested.
Additionally, the proposed budget would eliminate one step from the police sergeant and lieutenant payment plans, which carries its own cost.
Altogether, the total costs of public safety officers come to about $2.24 million, according to the finance office’s presentation. The total costs of proposed amendments after the city retreat, including both one-time and recurring expenses, came to an increase of almost $4 million to general fund spending.
Conroe Assistant Financial Director Collin Boothe said he could not recommend going ahead with all of the proposed amendments. Boothe presented a slide showing that beginning with the fiscal year 2023-24, the city of Conroe was projected to lose more than $4.14 million. By the fiscal year 2026-27, the city was projected to lose over $15 million.
“We’ll go really into the negative if we take all those ongoing items and plug them into the budget as proposed,” Boothe said. “We can’t have a trajectory like that. Even being conservative, that’s not sustainable.”
Both Boothe and Steve Williams, the city’s financial advisor, said the spending would not be advisable without an increase in revenue. City Administrator Paul Virgadamo told the city a 4-cent tax increase could balance the increased spending proposition. However, Boothe told Community Impact Newspaper the finance office was not planning a tax increase currently.
Council Member Marsha Porter was opposed to cutting the positions, saying she believes the city needed to support its law enforcement.
“I hate cutting fire. I hate cutting police. Is there any way we can bring these positions back next year when we have more money?” Porter said. “We can’t continue to put fire and police at the bottom, every time.”
Other council members offered possible solutions. Mayor Jody Czajowski mentioned a possible bond election to fund infrastructure projects such as a fire station so that money could be shifted to fund staffing. The discussion was ultimately tabled for the day.
City Council will return Aug. 12 for another session, where the proposed budget is listed on the action agenda. The budget will also face a public hearing Aug. 26, before it is adopted Sept. 9. The 2021-22 fiscal year will begin Oct. 1.