City Council Thursday night accepted a $419,010 federal grant enabling the full funding of two police officers for three years, with the fourth year cost to be drawn from the general fund.
Following the 6-1 vote, in which Councilwoman Liz Miele dissented, police Chief Gregory A. Foresman can give notice to the U.S. Department of Justice the city will accept a COPS Hiring Grant.
The long-awaited decision led several in the audience inside City Hall to applaud.
"I think the public has spoken," said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz. Miele said not all of the costs related to the grant were answered but gave credit to police, the mayor and council for the research done.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana indicated he wants to restart community policing, putting the new officers in specific neighborhoods.
The city has experienced a significant drop in the number of homicides, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assaults, but a rise in home and business burglaries, thefts and stolen motor vehicles, according to the latest FBI statistics for 2009-2010.
The department's complement remains at 52 officers at the conclusion of the grant period and will not be increased unless authorized by council.
"We're not creating legacy costs," said Councilman Jonathan Williamson. "This isn't about growing a larger police force," he said; "It is about investing now for a more experienced police force at the same size if we didn't do this."
The estimated $200,000 cost for the final year is to be paid for primarily by creation of an escrow account of $50,000 a year reserved in years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 to specifically cover the final year of the police salaries and benefits.
Four years ago, Williamson voted against a larger grant proposed to hire three officers because of his concerns about long-term costs. He suspected the revisions in this grant would provide more choice for whoever remains in charge in four years.
The police department anticipates losing three seasoned police agents, one lieutenant and a captain who are eligible to retire, Foresman said. At least nine police staff are expected to retire.
Foresman said he doesn't anticipate hiring the two more officers needed to begin the grant process until September at the earliest.
"We're already a year behind and I will probably have to ask for another extension until 2017," he said.
"We've exhausted the issue," said Councilman Don Noviello, who considered the grant to be plausible with the revisions and the safeguards on any punitive penalties.