Columbia City Council OK’s money for 800 cameras; police raises next year

cleblanc@thestate.comMay 7, 2013 

As of August 2011 when this photograph was taken, there were approximately 60 security cameras in Five Points, many along Saluda Avenue, including this one.


— Columbia streets and parks will have about 800 more security cameras and police and 911 dispatchers will get extra raises in January, City Council decided Tuesday in a political version of a security sweep.

Council dipped into six pots of money to get the cash to finance the proposals – $700,000 for cameras and $400,000 for mid-year, 3.3 percent pay raises – in next fiscal year’s budget for the public safety improvements.

Council, the majority of which is facing re-election in November, still must formalize the expenditures when it begins voting in June on the 2013-14 budget.

Tuesday’s vote to endorse the plan was split 4-2, with Councilwoman Leona Plaugh and Councilman Moe Baddourah casting the “no” votes. Councilman Sam Davis was out of the room when the vote occurred.

Plaugh said she disagrees with giving raises to some city employees and not others. Baddourah agreed and said he wants the 3.3 percent raise to be for a full year. That would cost about $800,000, the city’s budget director told council.

Last week, council authorized a 3.3 percent retroactive raise for firefighters after they complained earlier this year that the department was burdened by a heavy turnover rate, as firefighters the city paid to train left for jobs with better pay and better working conditions.

Plaugh is seeking to hold onto her District 4 seat and Baddourah, a first-term representative for District 3, is challenging Mayor Steve Benjamin. Benjamin, Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine and Davis also are up for new terms in the city’s first fall election.

The city has to allow security companies to bid on the cameras, so it’s unclear how soon they might begin appearing at 50 key intersections and in 24 city parks. Assistant city manager Missy Gentry said she hopes that installation will begin by September.

About 400 police officers would get the out-of-cycle raise starting Jan. 1, 2014, assistant chief Les Wiser said. Some 70 dispatchers in the 911 center will receive the raise, budget director Missy Caughman said. Their raises will be on top of a 2 percent across-the-board raise council has pledged to approve for all 2,300 city workers.

Altogether on Tuesday, council moved $1.22 million to pay for the public safety upgrades, to create a contingency fund for requests from private or non-profit organizations, and to cover a $25,000 bill from the River Alliance.

The bulk of the $1.22 million, or $750,000, is coming from an emergency reserve fund that is part of next year’s budget. That previous $1 million fund will be reduced to $250,000. A capital projects fund that was to be $1.7 million next year will be down by $200,000.

The city’s income from meal taxes will be earmarked to help pay for $100,000 of the cost of cameras. Another $100,000 will come by eliminating the city’s planned reserves in the event that fuel or utility bills jump. The final $75,000 is coming from cuts in the budget for paying the cost of housing inmates at the Richland County jail and from a share of the money the police department gets from items seized in investigating crimes.

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