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Erik Burgess, Published September 03 2013

Fargo police, fire chiefs likely won't get all they want in proposed city budget

FARGO – Despite a growing city and increases in calls for service, Fargo’s police and fire chiefs likely won’t get all they want in next year’s city budget.

Police Keith Ternes asked for five new full-time officers to help deal with a spike in calls in recent years, but received just three new positions in Fargo’s 2014 proposed budget.

Ternes made a presentation earlier this year saying his 145 sworn officers were not enough for a growing Fargo. There were 55,584 calls for service in 2012, an 8.5 percent jump compared with the 51,215 calls received in 2011. Since 2008, calls have gone up 20 percent.

“The calls for service that we’re getting, the policing issues that are impacting the community, certainly call for five additional police officers,” Ternes said before Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. “So only getting three won’t change that work demand, but we’ll have to distribute those officers as wisely as we can.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Dennis Walaker said he thought the budget process went “extremely well” this year.

“There’s a lot of needs out there, and we are addressing, as far as I’m concerned, the majority of them,” he said.

Ternes said he understands that other departments also have priorities, and that three new officers “at least gets us closer to where we need to be.”

Ternes said there are other “ever-increasing” issues such drug crimes, child abuse and solicitation of minors that require more police attention where existing resources “really are stretched thin.”

“By adding more police officers on a continuous basis to match that growth of the city,” he said, “it puts us in a position to be proactive and prevent some of those things from getting a foothold in the community, instead of reacting to those things once they’re here.”

One of the three positions in the proposed budget is set to be a school resource officer, which is funded 50 percent by Fargo Public Schools, Ternes said.

The proposed budget also gives Ternes a full-time quartermaster assistant to help maintain evidence, a position he said is “grossly overdue” for a city the size of Fargo.

Fire Chief Steve Dirksen asked the city for six new full-time firefighters next year. He received four in the proposed 2014 budget, a number he said he was “absolutely happy” with. It brings his total sworn personnel to 119.

“The new personnel will afford us the opportunity to have three people on every truck every day, and that was our goal,” Dirksen said.

Fargo firefighters have also seen an increase in service calls, Dirksen told commissioners. There was a 27 percent increase in 2012, and they’re expecting another 10 or 11 percent increase this year.

Dirksen said he hopes to fund four new firefighting positions with a federal grant distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would pay 100 percent of wages and benefits for those four firefighters for two years.

The application period ended last week, but Dirksen doesn’t know how long the peer-review process for the grant will take.

Dirksen also asked the city for $2.5 million to rebuild Fire Station No. 2 at 3020 25th St. S., but he was not granted those dollars in the 2014 preliminary budget. The station was built sometime in the 1980s, and needs to be modernized, Dirksen said.

“That’s not happening this year, and that’s fine,” he said. “We’re all part of a team within the city, and there’s priorities throughout the city.”

Dirksen, who is in his second year as fire chief, said he hopes to have a long-term capital improvement plan in place in the next few years.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518