published Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield offers cars or raises, not both


by Cliff Hightower
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City Council members may face another tough decision this upcoming budget season for Chattanooga police officers -- give them cars or money.

Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration told council members Tuesday during a special meeting on police take-home cars that $1.2 million has been included in next year's budget to help fund the career ladder incentive program. At the same time, it would take $1.2 million to fully reinstate the police department's take-home car program.

"So, the choice is career ladder or cars?" Councilwoman Carol Berz asked.

Littlefield immediately responded.

"You're right," he said.

The release of a small portion of the city budget came on the same day as the city announcing it would provide incentives for officers moving into the city.

Sgt. Toby Hewitt, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said after the meeting he was blindsided by the city saying it would provide $1.2 million to fund the career ladder, which is a program set up to reward officers who obtain more training and receive promotions.

The career ladder affects only the city's 472 police officers now employed.

"This is the first I've heard about it," he said.

Hewitt said it has put a difficult choice before police Chief Bobby Dodd, as well, on what the preference should be.

"That's a tough one," Hewitt said. "Our officers have gone too long in limbo."

But Dodd said during the meeting the choice for him would be clear.

"The cars are not my argument this year," he said. "My argument is raises and benefits this year."

The issue of take-home cars has been contentious since last year, when the city decided to allow only those police officers who live in the city to take their patrol cars home for free.

Anyone who lives outside the city must pay a monthly fee or park the vehicle.

Police union officials contend the policy is affecting public safety by limiting response times, while the city maintains it is saving almost $1 million annually.

The mayor's 2012-13 budget is expected to be presented to the council within the next few weeks. Once the budget is presented the council will debate the material before trying to approve it in time for a July 1 deadline.

In other news, city Office of Sustainability Director Dave Crockett appeared before council members Tuesday during committee meetings to say he wanted to clarify statements made involving a green roof on the Chattanooga City Council building.

The council approved last week allowing Crockett to use a federal grant to help pay for the roof.

Since then, the sustainability director has taken heat for allegedly wasting money on a project that is perceived as not recouping much more savings than a normal roof.

Crockett said he estimates the roof would save the city around $500,000 over 50 years.

"Anybody wanting to challenge me can bring an accountant and come on," he said.

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