Economy forces cancellation of joint public safety building

Doug Gulasy

The city has ended plans for a joint safety building with the university and county, saving the city $9 million over the next two years.

Dave Coffee, Kent budget and finance director, said lower income tax revenues drove the city to reconsider its plans for the facility, which would have included a new police station.

The idea of the Kent City Police Department sharing a new building with the Kent State University Police Department as well as the Portage County Sheriff’s Office had previously been discussed.

“I think it is a prudent step to defer that at this time,” Coffee said. “We’re trying to be fiscally conservative or prudent in not overextending ourselves at this time.”

The economic recession has forced the city to scale back slightly on its budgets for the police and fire departments. In addition to the canceled safety facility, the city has cut back on purchases for the police and fire departments and replaced external training with internal training.

Despite those cutbacks, Public Safety Director William Lillich said the city’s police and fire services have been mostly unaffected by the recession.

Across the country, the shrinking economy has caused cities to scale back on police and fire service, eliminating positions, leaving vacancies unfilled and cutting back on overtime.

That has not happened in Kent.

“We’re still providing what I would consider to be a strong level of service in both departments,” Lillich said.

City officials said Kent has stayed mostly unaffected because the city has dealt with lower revenues for several years.

“It’s nothing new to us,” said Police Lt. Jayme Cole said. “We watch the dollars and cents all the time, so in that regard, it’s business as usual.”

Coffee said the economic downturn that began last September caused tax revenues to drop initially, but the decrease has leveled off.

“We’re not seeing any continuing erosion in our income tax receipts,” he said.

Having Kent State nearby helps Kent, Coffee said, because the university provides a considerable amount of revenue to the city.

Lillich echoed the sentiment.

“You don’t have to drive very far to see that there are more people in Kent now,” he said.

Lillich said even though Kent hasn’t been hit as hard as other communities by the economic downturn, “that does not mean that it’s been easy.”

Kent may be forced to take further steps to cut down on its police and fire budgets. Lillich said police officers could start to do more telephone reporting for incidents if their presence isn’t required on the scene. Also, the city is looking at how quickly firefighters are recalled for multiple-alarm fires.

And although the city doesn’t plan to eliminate any fire or police jobs, it is looking at scaling back overtime.

“We’re always watching the overtime very closely,” Lillich said. “There are some times where we can’t avoid it, but there are other times where we’re reducing it.”

Overall, however, Lillich said Kent is lucky compared to other cities across the country.

“Generally speaking, we have been fortunate,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].