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Budget changes will save officer positions

The city's Board of Police Commissioners today approved changes to the department's budget for the 2012 fiscal year that will prevent the loss, through attrition, of 65 officers.

That marks a sharp turnaround from February, when Isom revealed that a $2.5 million gap could force the department to leave open positions of officers leaving the force.  And the relatively smooth process is in sharp contrast to the turmoil surrounding the budget of the St. Louis fire department.

"I don't have the details of what's going on over there so I can't speak to their negotiations," Isom said. "All I know is that [City Hall] gave us a budget of $140 million, and we met that budget allocation. It’s due to department employees, commanders, coming together and trying to crunch the numbers to find ways in which we could save money."

The department was able to save $600,000 by switching health insurance providers, a benefit the department re-bids every three years. They'll spread out over three checks the money officers receive from accumulated sick time when they retire, rather than paying the benefit in one lump sum. (The sick-leave buyback's been eliminated for new hires, which will save the department money in the future.)

The budget also takes several of the same cost-cutting steps as last year, including civilian furloughs, a pay freeze for all employees, and a reduction in the tuition assistance program.

The St. Louis Police Officer's Association says the department "did the best they could" with the budget. Its president, Tom Walsh, says members weren't surprised by the spending plan, but wish the city would have chipped in some money to end the salary freeze.

"It’s not so much affecting the senior officers as it is the younger officers," said Walsh, a homicide detective. "The officers with eight years or less, some of them are taking $5,000 hits now that they’ve got a second year of their pay being frozen."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.