EVERETT — After some initial hesitancy, the Everett City Council approved a $6 million grant that could go toward funding up to 16 more police officers, but would also tie up resources down the line for the financially strapped city.
Council members voted 6-1 Wednesday evening in favor of allowing Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin to accept the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, just six days before the offer was to expire.
A week earlier, council members declined to bring the matter to a vote, with some citing concerns over the looming $18 million deficit in the coming year’s budget. In the end, it was the grant’s flexibility — as well as extended conversations with Police Chief Dan Templeman and other city leaders — that won over the majority of council members. After learning more about how the grant could be used, council members Brenda Stonecipher and Scott Murphy requested the council take up the matter again.
The Everett Police Department currently has funding for 206 officers. Funding from the COPS grant would help cover salaries for officers in patrol, bicycle and traffic units, according to Templeman.
“By accepting this grant the city is not committing to spending a single dollar,” Templeman said. “The city can spend all of the money, a portion of the funds, or nothing at all.”
Any money that is spent will have to be approved by the council. The city can also use the grant to foot the bill for filling some vacancies, essentially freeing money that has already been budgeted, according to Templeman.
The three-year COPS grant won’t cover all of the expenses for hiring officers. The funds don’t fully cover the salaries and benefits of each officer, and the city will still have to pay for any training and equipment. Lateral hires from other departments could reduce some training expenses, however. And a requirement for grant recipients to pay a matching 25% was waived for Everett, Templeman said.
The city can apply for an extension of three years to use the money, or possibly more. But once that time has run out, the city will have to keep the hired officers on for at least another year, with the full cost borne by the city.
Councilmember Liz Vogeli was the lone no vote. In her comments, she talked of city employees who have been laid off in recent months and how she could not “in good conscience” approve a grant that could further burden the budget, with no new revenue in sight.
“It should be no secret that accepting this COPS grant won’t fix any of our budget problems … in fact it has a real potential to make them worse, whether it’s in one, three or five years,” Vogeli said.
At the beginning of the year, Franklin expressed hopes to hire 24 more police officers within a few years. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic ensured a future rife with financial uncertainty — and before nationwide protests called for defunding police.
Since the pandemic hit, the city has been beset with financial challenges as retail commerce suddenly plummeted due to public health concerns. City leaders moved to cut the budget through a combination of layoffs, hiring freezes, suspended travel and voluntary separations. Meanwhile, Everett’s fire and police department budgets largely have been kept intact.
While the city likely can’t adopt the aggressive hiring strategy that Franklin envisioned, Councilmember Jeff Moore said, the grant “has the flexibility for us to adapt.”
With the grant all but secured, Franklin and Templeman will now have to create a hiring plan that suits the times. What that looks like may be addressed in the mayor’s budget address later this month.