COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Two dozen Columbus police officers and firefighters are keeping their jobs despite budget shortfalls in the General Fund budget.
The positions were saved after city council made a tough decision to shift the financial burden from the General Fund to LOST funds—Local Option Sales Tax.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson says the $200 million general budget has been dwindling over the last 8 years.
"Council was very clear that this is a one-time deal and hopefully next year we can start moving those jobs back to the General Fund where they belong," explained Tomlinson.
The LOST money was earmarked in 2008 to hire 100 new officers to make the streets of Columbus safer.
"Previously there had been representations to the community that we would not transfer public safety from the General Fund to the LOST, but under the circumstances, we have to keep police, firefighters, and EMS and law enforcers on the streets," recalled Tomlinson.
Fire Chief Jeff Meyer says losing 14 fire and EMS jobs in his department would have jeopardized emergency response times, a main concern for personnel and the citizens.
"For fire calls, we have a minute and a half to get their gear on and wheels rolling and 4 minutes to arrive to their destination," Meyer said.
Those times are benchmarks for the area in and around the public safety building on 10th Street. The response times are different for each area according to its population, according to Meyer.
Meyer says as fire chief, safety for his workers and the community is his main concern in keeping those 14 fire and EMS positions intact.
"Crew size is directly proportional to the safety of the personnel at the scene and the consequently to the citizens we serve as well," Meyer said.
Those jobs along with 10 police positions are no longer at stake thanks to a one-time move by city council.
"Council went through the process," said Meyer. "I know they had a difficult season; I applaud them."
There's even more good news for police officers and detectives who work overtime, with no overtime pay instead of getting comp time...they will get paid for the extra hours they work.
The mayor says that expenditure equates to about $500,000 to keep detectives on the streets when need and nearly $167,000 to allow trainees more hours learning the job.