Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of articles on the City of Georgetown’s in-depth study into the city’s finances, past, present and future. The full study along with the video presentation can be found on georgetownky.com, the City of Georgetown’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The number of police officers patrolling Georgetown’s streets is 23 less than the FBI recommends for a city of its size.
The reason is because of the city’s historic growth and its failure to hire officers at a pace in keeping with that growth.
The city’s fire department and dispatch units are in similar condition.
Those findings are part of an extensive study completed by the city comparing 20-year trends with Georgetown and 17 of Kentucky’s cities of comparable size. The study does include Lexington and Louisville, but Georgetown is the fifth largest city within the “peer group,” as explained by Mayor Tom Prather. The cities included in the study besides Georgetown are: Bowling Green, Owensboro, Covington, Richmond, Florence, Hopkinsville, Nicholasville, Elizabethtown, Henderson, Frankfort, Jeffersontown, Paducah, Ashland, Murray, Madisonville, Erlanger, Winchester and Danville.
“Georgetown’s growth has far outpaced the city’s public safety efforts,” states the study. “As a result, the number of police officers per 1,000 residents has dramatically declined. At 1.69 officers per 1,000 residents, Georgetown ranks the lowest among its 18 peer cities and falls 17 officers short of its peer average and 23 officers short of the FBI standard.
“It would cost the city an additional $1.3 million annually to hire enough police officers to meet the standard set by its peers.”
In 2000, Georgetown had 3.68 officers per 1,000 residents, but that number has steadily declined. During the recession that decline quickened falling from 2.19 in 2008 to 1.76 in 2009.
The number of Georgetown firefighters per 1,000 residents is 20 less than its peer cities and the number of 9-1-1 dispatchers is half what it was in the year 2000, despite a 30 percent increase in calls, the study reports. In 2018, there were 4,125 calls handled by dispatch compared to 3,166 in 2008. The current 1.63 Georgetown firefighters per 1,000 residents compares to 2.22 per 1,000 residents for the peer cities included in the study.
The report shows Georgetown not only employs fewer police and firemen, but pays them less.
“Among eight police departments that have recently advertised for police officers recruits and transfers, the average starting wage for certified peace officers is $8,600 more than Georgetown with competitive or better benefits,” the report states. “Several jurisdictions pay more for experienced or specialized lateral hires, unlike Georgetown, which pays the same for a two-year offer as a 20-year veteran.
“The story is similar for firefighters, where Georgetown lags the peer average by $11,000” annually.
A certified Georgetown police officer is paid $40,900 annually compared to: Nicholasville, $39,713; Winchester, $40,899; Berea, $46,328; Frankfort, $47,680, Richmond, $50,842; Florence, $53,548, Middletown, $57,040 and Paducah, $60,522. The peer average is $49,572.
A Georgetown firefighter is paid $33,579, according to the report compared to: Elizabethtown, $$36,565; Winchester, $38,017; Bowling Green, $41,743; Frankfort, $42,350; Middletown, $44,166; Covington, $44,751 and Florence, $50,793. The peer average is $44,681.
Public safety departments account for 60.1 percent of the city’s budget. These departments include police, fire, emergency management and dispatch. No other city department exceeds 8 percent of the city’s budget.
Georgetown spends on average about $54 per capita less on fire protection than its peer cities at $162, compared to $216. Paducah and spends $340. Covington spends $339 per capita while Nicholasville spends $137 per capita on fire protection.
A 25-minute video was presented Thursday night at a special called city council meeting. Although the study examines many facets of the city’s budget, including trends and causes, Prather said the video focuses on public safety because that is where the bulk of the city’s budget goes and it is a main priority for citizens.
“The purpose of this report is to compare Georgetown to the 18 other most populous cities in Kentucky, excluding Lexington, Louisville and Independence (a statistical outlier),” states the report’s introduction. “The (Sample Cities), in terms of revenues, expenditures, debt, reserves, taxes, and various, statistics in a single fiscal year, and to look at this same information for Georgetown over the last 15-25 years.
“Current figures are predominately from the 2018 Audits and Comprehensive Financial Reports, Averages for the sample cities include Georgetown and the other tested cities. City employment numbers span 1993 to 2017 unless otherwise noted. Population, income, household and jobs statistics were obtained from the Kentucky State Data Center, www.census.gov and the Census’ On the Map website. The report also examines important trends in revenues and expenditures and forecasts that data into a future budget outlook.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.