Anniston police and fire departments downsized by proposed budget cuts

The Anniston city manager's proposed budget for 2015 cuts more than $1.5-million in spending compared to this year.The police and fire chiefs are concerned about the cuts to public safety."There will be less patrolmen on the street.{} There's no doubt about it," police chief Shane Denham said.He said his department is about to downsize from 96 sworn officers to 85.{} Many of those officers, if not all, retired or left and are not being replaced. The police department has been unable to hire any new recruits, and said it takes about nine months after hiring to send someone to the police academy and other training before a new officer is ready for duty.{} If there are other departures, the earliest Denham can send someone to the academy is January, and it would be until Summer or Fall 2015 for that person to begin patrolDenham said there will be cuts and layoffs of around a dozen civilian personnel from the office staff and dispatch.{} Denham said he expects the Anniston Police Department to have a total of about 30 fewer employees in 2015.Some of the 85 uniformed officers will have to do more desk work in order to cover for the decrease in office staff. "I anticipate with the lag time, that we'll be working in the 70s," Denham said.{} "In my 20 year career, that's the least since I've been here."Fire chief Tony Taylor said city manager Brian Johnson asked for departmental budgets to cut spending by about 5.5 percent.{} That meant going from 88 firefighters to 81, but Taylor said he was fortunate to have already gotten to that number through retirements and attrition."We were just blessed that that was the time this came around, and of the four recent retirements, that met the quota that we needed to meet,"{}he said.Taylor said the department's{}emergency response will not change, but community outreach programs{}will."Public fire education is very important to us because we believe in the fire service that if you can prevent a fire, that's actually better than extinguishing a fire," he said."Small events we have around like Fourth Fridays, Neewollah, and the Saturday morning [farmers'] market are{}things we won't be able to attend because we can no longer allow that truck crew,{}a three{}to{}four man truck crew, to stand there as a static display."The fire department will continue its{}Children's Fire Prevention Safety House, which simulates smoke inside a building and helps teach children{}techniques to use in a fire escape.{} However, Taylor said the public appearances for education are important{}for informing adults."You don't automatically think 'hey I'm going to go visit the fire station today.' Once you get out of grammar school that's no longer in your head, so we have to go to the people," Taylor said."You'd be surprised how many people are not just simply familiar with topics like stop drop and roll, smoke detectors, and any other life-saving skills that we can show them there.{} We actually come to them in a probably more laid back, easier environment for them to understand it," he said.The police chief{}said he has had talks with the city manager, whom Denham{}described as being a proponent of having a smaller work force{}that is better taken care of."He'd rather have 90 happy employees, as opposed to 100 employees that are not happy.{} So what{}I take from that is he's going to try to take better care of those of us that are left.{} If that's what happens, that's the only way a positive is going to come out of this," Denham said.But at this time, the police chief views the cuts as a big damper on morale.

"That's a big thing that's hard for us to keep up to begin with, because of work load and pay issues and things like that," he said.

"When you add additional work or having to do the same with less people, it just causes more stress, which compounds the problem. More people want to leave, and you don't want that snowball to get moving too fast.

"Morale is the biggest issue."The proposed budget also recommends reducing the Public Works and Street Department from 58 to 47-employees.There will be a public forum at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, September 8 at the Anniston City Meeting Center.{} The city council will vote on the budget following the forum.

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