The Gilbert Town Council appears to have found a way to hire more police officers and open fire stations on time without raising taxes.
The council agreed late Tuesday to limit town employee pay raises to 3 percent per year for the next five years instead of pursuing a primary property tax, an increase in the sales tax or a utility bill surcharge to fund the public safety increases.
The town manager had recommended increasing employee wages by 8 percent next fiscal year and 5 percent in subsequent years. Gilbert has 781 full-time employees.
"No other business in the world has the luxury of being able to pay their employees whatever they want and collect money from unwilling sponsors to make the payroll," Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman said.
Town Manager George Pettit said the council’s plan leaves little reserve in the 2004-05 budget.
"If we have no one-time expenditures or surprises, it will work," Pettit said.
"I’ve done this before, but never in the fastest-growing community in the United States."
The council agreed to hire 16 police officers per year over the next five years to reach a ratio of 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents by 2009, a ratio previously identified as the minimum standard by a council subcommittee that studied police services. The subcommittee preferred a ratio of 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents, but that likely would have required a tax increase or surcharge.
Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale have ratios ranging from 1.42 to 2.04 officers per 1,000 residents.
The council authorized hiring an additional 23 police department employees, including seven dispatchers and six 911 operators. The council also agreed to open new fire stations in 2006 and 2007.