By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
SHAMOKIN — Facing a nearly $300,000 budget shortfall, the city of Shamokin is furloughing four members of its police force, possibly leaving the police unable to provide 24-hour coverage, according to the chief.
More than 100 people showed up at a City Council meeting Monday night, where council announced two officers and two meter clerks would be furloughed to balance the 2014 budget.
Last week, Chief Edward Griffiths was told six members of the force — four officers and two meter clerks — would have to be furloughed to balance the budget. That move would have left the force unable to provide the city with round-the-clock coverage, he said.
“We’re not going to be able to provide 24-hour service, it’s impossible,” said Chief Edward Griffiths. “We have three shifts and there needs to be two men on each shift, leaving only one man off. ... There’s no way I could cover vacations, personal days, sick time.”
However, after the public outcry, council members announced Monday night that they had found funding to bring back two of the officers.
William Milbrand, a councilman and mayor-elect, emphasized that the furloughed officers could be brought back to work after the budget issues were sorted out.
“The budget can be opened back up again and reviewed,” he said. “This is a possibly temporary situation.”
The situation that led to the cuts has been brewing since the city’s budget deficit was announced at more than $600,000 earlier this year. That number was trimmed to about $300,000, but the city needed a balanced budget before the end of the year to qualify for some loans and grants, Milbrand said.
“It was a requirement to have a balanced budget,” he said. “We were under the gun.”
But making deep cuts to the police force is a public safety issue, Griffiths said.
“This is like any other small city that’s in a depressed area,” he said. “We have crime, and we have different types of crime than we’ve had ... This isn’t kids throwing eggs at houses anymore.”
Griffiths said finding out two fewer officers had been cut than anticipated was like “getting a Christmas present you wanted but no batteries.”
“I need my guys,” he said.
Griffiths placed the blame for the cuts on certain city leaders for mismanaging the city’s finances and causing the need for such drastic cuts.
“There’re a lot of questions,” he said.
Griffiths also said that the Shamokin Police Department is grateful for the support it has received from the community and neighboring departments.