Rochester officials hammer out a tight 2009 budget - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Crystal Oko

Rochester officials hammer out a tight 2009 budget

ROCHESTER, MN (FOX 47) -- Rochester city officials spent most of the afternoon and into the evening working out the 2009 budget. And the theme of that meeting seemed to be cutting down on the extras.

But one department that has a lot of the City Council's attention is the Police Department.

Minnesota is facing a $5.27 billion budget deficit for 2009.  And that deficit could filter down to local governments and hurt cities, like Rochester, that depend on that aid.

Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson says it's that aid that his department relies on.

"My primary obligation is to provide a reasonable amount of safety for my staff on the streets so they can do their job," said Peterson.

Peterson has wanted to hire new officers. But now, with the threat of never seeing that $8 million state aid for the city - Peterson says he needs to do something to get more officers out on the street now.

"We have to look hard inside the department so we can move from inside to outside so we can provide that staffing level. We'll be doing that but we're looking at some pretty long-standing programs and some other ones that aren't so long lived but really effect and we'd hate to lose," said Peterson.

Peterson is looking at moving the Crime Prevention Unit officer back onto the streets and cutting back that program. He's also looking at putting the Community Service Officers supervising officer back on the street. And is considering not replacing a retiring Deputy Chief.

"Probably the best case scenario now is that the state looks at their budget and says it's a big problem to solve but we aren't going to solve it at the expense of local government aid," said Peterson.

Peterson says the department has been struggling to meet a twelve officer minimum per shift. He says he's been doing it with a lot of overtime.

"You can only do that for a relatively short period of time before it's a drain on the officers themselves," said Peterson.

A drain on officers and a strain on the budget - all signs of this troubling economy.

"We're in a position that we need to make short term decisions, in terms of providing that reasonable margin of safety for our staff, that we recognize at the outset are not good long term decisions," said Peterson.

We won't know what the state will be giving the city until springtime.

Mayor Ardell Brede will be up at the capital in St. Paul on Wednesday to talk about Rochester's need for state aid.

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