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PAXTON — As a result of the Paxton City Council’s decision Monday night to not hire a seventh police officer, the police department is no longer providing certain “luxury” services to residents, Police Chief Bob Bane said.
“Effective immediately, due to manpower shortages and the city council not wanting to fill the seventh officer position, the Paxton Police Department will cease (assisting residents with) lockouts from cars and houses, which we’d been doing for years, except in emergency situations,” Bane said Tuesday. “An emergency situation would be, typically, a child locked in a car or an animal locked in a car when the car’s not running and it’s hot outside, or something like that.
“The Paxton Police will also cease responding to private-property non-injury accidents (those that occur on private property that do not involve injuries),” Bane said. “State law does not require us to,” he added.
Bane estimated that of the 100 to 150 accidents that typically occur in Paxton each year, about half occur on private property and do not involve injuries. Those accidents often occur in parking lots like those at the Paxton IGA or the junior or senior high schools, Bane said.
Now, if there is an accident on private property that does not involve injuries, an officer will not respond. Instead, the drivers involved will have to exchange insurance information between themselves and can file a police report if they want to by acquiring the necessary accident report at the police department on North Railroad Avenue.
Assisting residents who are locked out of their vehicles or homes is also a service that will no longer be made available. Police had been offering the service free of charge for many years, Bane said.
Now, residents who want assistance with a lockout will have to call a local towing company that offers the service for a fee, Bane said. Bane said he is aware of at least two in Paxton that do offer lockout services.
The city council voted 4-2 Monday night to not hire the seventh police officer. Aldermen had been discussing the hire for months, and Bane had rearranged his budget several times to find the money to make way for the position. Bane had said enough money was available to hire the officer for this fiscal year, but funding in future years remained clouded.
Aldermen Alan Meyer and Del Bruens voted in favor of the hiring. But the other four aldermen present voted “no.” Bill Goben was absent.
The city has tightened its finances over the past five years, and much of the discussion surrounded the affordability of adding the position.
City Attorney Bob Martensen pointed out, “Five years ago we didn’t know if we’d have enough money to meet payroll.”
Mayor Bill Ingold said: ”We need a six-month reserve,” and the estimated $900,000 the city maintains in reserve equals that.
Meyer questioned whether the amount in reserve was too high.
“It seems we prepare for doomsday and it never comes,” Meyer said.
Meyer also said he sees the council addressing funding problems by simply making cuts.
Police officer Bob Jones pleaded one more time for the seventh officer, and other officers attended Monday’s meeting. Jones asked the council to consider what were “wants” and what “needs” in the budgeting. He noted that the only item still to be negotiated between the union representing the nonsupervisory police officers and city was “comp time.”
With a meeting set Wednesday with the union, city representatives and a federal mediator, Ingold said he wouldn’t vote on the officer hiring until negotiations are complete.
Paxton Record correspondent Carol Thilmony contributed to this report.