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Insight from WFPD: A glimpse at the budget process

May is typically the first month of spring and brings the warm temperatures of the summer season to our area. It is also the time of budget preparation for the Police Department. Like any business, the department must analyze the goods and services that it provides to the customer, the public. The process includes a review of past trends relating to crime statistics and calls for service as well as speculation on future growth potential. The department also factors in suggestions and recommendations made by the customers. The administration must then determine how best to improve, maintain or eliminate services to meet the department goals and objectives. Any change would come through adjustments to staffing and equipment or the way the department conducts their operations.

The draft budget and budget justifications are prepared by department staff and presented to the city manager for an informal audit. The city manager evaluates any requested change or additions presented by the department in comparison the present year's operating budget. The city manager may make recommendations to the proposed budget based on the requests from the other city departments and a targeted tax mil levee. Spending requests for special projects or one time spending requests receive additional review and determination of need.

The draft budget moves on for a review before the city commission who acts as the board of directors for the city's business. The various department heads appear before the commission to present justification for their requests and answer any question that may arise. The budget hearings are open to the public and the commission does take public comment. The hearings begin during the month of July and are held during several commission meetings before the final budget approval. The final budget must be filed with Cass County prior to October first.

As with most businesses the cost of employees is one of the biggest expenses with current levels of thirty-eight police officers and ten support staff positions. The department has attempted to add staff to maintain pace with the growing community. The national average for a community the size of West Fargo is 1.8 officers per 1000 people. West Fargo currently has a ratio of 1.4 officers per 1000 based on an estimated population of 27,000. The department has been fortunate enough to obtain federal funding to assist in coverage of salary and benefits during the first three years of some of the newest officers hired.

The department fields fourteen marked squad cars and ten unmarked vehicles. The officers share use of the marked patrol vehicles as they rotate through their shifts. The unmarked vehicles are used by the administrative staff and the detectives. The department holds the marked patrol vehicles for three to four years before they are replaced. By the end of that time the vehicles will have over one hundred thousand road miles. A replacement vehicle is currently around twenty-five thousand not including the cost for the mobile data computer, in car video camera, mobile radio, emergency lighting system and other various pieces of equipment used to outfit a patrol vehicle. These additional items nearly double the cost of the vehicle.

Other expenses for the department are not unlike any other business. There is the cost of uniforms; office supplies; computers and their replacements; computer programs and their maintenance fees; office furniture; costs associated with communication systems; and training. Some expenses are unique such as a prorated share of the costs of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center; the Red River SWAT team; and the Regional Law Enforcement Training Center. Cost sharing for these items allows the department to realize a cost savings while enjoying the benefits they afford our operations.

The staff takes great care in development of the budget to ensure an effective and efficient operation that meets the needs of the public. As a public entity the staff understands the heavy responsibility involved with the use of the community's tax dollars to fund the operations of the department. For the City of West Fargo to be the best run business, the public, as the customers in the process, is encouraged to contact the department or the commission to make their wishes known. When we all work together as a community great things get done.