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Local News

August 19, 2013

PN looks to increase tax rate to fund hiring of two officers

PORT NECHES — Port Neches City Council is looking at the possibility of increasing its tax rate above the effective rate as a way to add two police officer positions to the force.

After hearing a request from Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine about staffing, Council decided to further the discussion to fund the two positions during Thursday’s council meeting.

“In order to fund the positions, the tax rate would need to be adjusted to .695478 per $100 valuation,” City Manager Andrè Wimer said. The current tax rate is .678066 per $100 valuation.

PNPD has 18 total officers which includes 12 patrol officers. In addition, three officers are investigators and one is a narcotics officer assigned to the Narcotics Task Force. One is assistant chief and one is chief.

“We average about 12,000 calls per year for service basically spread between 12 people,” Lemoine said.

The department has not added a police position since before 1986 other than the task force officer.

“Out of all the positions we have, if nobody takes a day off or is sick or injured or in training or on vacation, we can man our shifts with three officers per 12-hour shift for 24/7. But it never happens that way,” he said. We are minimally staffed.”

Often someone is on vacation or sick or off work, which leaves two patrol officers for the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. day shift. Lemoine doesn’t let this happen during the night shift or on weekends.

“All I’m trying to do is get to where we can fill a shift with three officers 365 days a year,” he added. “Over the last six years, we have averaged working two officers 67 percent of the time in the day shift.”

When the new school year begins, two officers will patrol school zones — there are six schools in the city, meaning the officer can’t stay at one spot. Should there be a complaint, traffic problem or some similar issue, the one remaining officer will take over. But if there is a call or a wreck, then all of the day shift officers are out and detectives can’t randomly leave the office as they are investigating cases or talking to the district attorney’s office. Lemoine and assistant chief Jim Walters have been known to respond to call when the department is short-handed.

Lemoine said it can be frustrating. For example, he may get a call from a person who has reported speeders on a street adjacent to a school. It would not be feasible to take a patrol officer from a school zone or from a call to check out speeders elsewhere.

Port Neches-Groves High School typically employees the service of an off-duty officer as a school resource officer, but on the days when an officer cannot be at the school, patrol has to cover the calls.

“In 2012 we had 93 calls for service and 56 offenses reported, which doesn’t account for the reports the SRO takes care of,” he said.

And in response to the school shootings in Connecticut in late 2012, Lemoine issued a directive to all patrol personnel to make daily walk-throughs at each school campus at least once a shift. During the spring semester, officers conducted 459 school walk-throughs.

The tax rate discussed by Council relative to the new positions would generate about $140,000 in additional revenue to the city, which would provide the funding necessary to cover all costs of salaries and benefits for the two positions, Wimer said.

The effect on a homeowner would be minimal. A home worth $150,000, with homestead exemption, would see an increase of about $20 per year.

Since the rate discussed is above the effective rate, Council is required to hold two public hearings, which are set for 4 p.m. Aug. 28 and Sept. 5.

E-mail: mmeaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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