CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa Falls Police Department will be able to hire an additional officer after the City Council included funding for that position in the 2019 budget it approved Tuesday.

The Council voted 5-0 to approve the budget, which calls for a 6.43 percent increase in the tax levy — the money collected from taxpayers — from $6.7 million to $7.1 million. Council members CW King and Paul Nadreau were absent.

Overall general fund expenses increased by 3.45 percent, climbing from $12.5 million to $12.9 million. The tax rate increased from $9.17 per thousand dollars valuation to $9.68 per thousand dollars valuation. Equalized value jumped by 11.1 percent, from $900 million to $1 billion.

No one from the public spoke at the budget hearing before the council voted.

“I think it’s remarkable the equalized value went up over $100 million,” Councilman Bob Hoekstra said.

Wage increases for staff

City finance manager Lynne Bauer walked the council through the budget, which features about $430,000 in increases. Bauer said the bulk of the new spending will cover wage increases for city staff. Because of growth in the community, the room in the levy limit grew by 4.4 percent, giving an additional $100,000 this year, she added.

The largest new expenditure will be adding another police officer, at a cost of about $91,000, which includes wages, benefits, gear and training.

The city has 23 sworn officers. However, 15 years ago, there were 27 officers, but staffing has dwindled through attrition during lean budget years. With the increase in calls for service and the concerns about methamphetamine and opioids in western Wisconsin, the department has sought to add another officer for several years.

Police Chief Matt Kelm thanked council members for their support.

“It’s the first new officer we’ve added since 2003. It’s so critical,” Kelm said. “We’ll start our hiring process (today) to fill that position as soon as possible. It will increase safety in the community and will provide our department with much-needed backup.”

The department has seen continual turnover this year, with overtime being one of the reasons, as officers come in for 12-hour shifts on their scheduled day off. The department just had a swearing-in ceremony for Officer James Harper on Monday but still has one vacancy, along with the new position.

The department’s 12 patrol officers and four sergeants switched to 12-hour shifts in July 2013, instead of eight-hour shifts. Kelm said those officers are still happy with 12-hour shifts and don’t want to see that change.

The approved 2019 budget includes a 2 percent wage increase for city workers and $66,000 for operational increases, ranging from forestry supplies to Chippewa Riverfront park expenses to payroll contract costs.