An Ohio Auditor's Office report released Jan. 19 said the city of Pickerington could save as much as $81,000 annually by requiring city police to pay a higher share for their employee benefits.

An Ohio Auditor's Office report released Jan. 19 said the city of Pickerington could save as much as $81,000 annually by requiring city police to pay a higher share for their employee benefits.

It also suggested the city should limit future wage increases and renegotiate salary schedules.

The performance audit was commissioned by Pickerington City Council, which last year approved spending $24,500 to measure local police efficiencies and staffing levels, and to determine if the city could reduce costs related to the police department's operating budget.

"The police department can save $81,000 per year by renegotiating employee contributions to their health insurance plans and health savings account funding provided by the city," an executive summary of the audit stated. "Currently, employees of the police department contribute 8 percent of the cost of their medical, dental and vision insurance premiums.

"Compared to peers in the Columbus region, Pickerington's employee contribution rates are significantly lower. City officials should consider renegotiating employee premium contributions."

The audit suggested the city should renegotiate provisions of its collective-bargaining agreement with the department's union employees, who are represented by the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. It said the provisions "are generous when compared to peers, such as tuition reimbursement and injury leave for patrol officers and dispatchers."

Further, the audit said the city should create a vehicle-replacement plan for the police department, which would seek to show the optimal time to replace a vehicle; this would mean budget constraints "would be less likely to drive fleet management decisions."

Pickerington finance director Chris Schornack said the city intends to use the audit's findings in future negotiations with the FOP. The city's current contract with the FOP is set to expire at the end of this year and a new contract is expected to extend from 2013 through 2015.

"The recommendations made within the report will most definitely be discussed (and) negotiated for the next contract," Schornack said. "Negotiations (are scheduled) to begin in October (or) November 2012."

Police officials said the audit did more to support the quality work of the department and its operations' efficiencies than it did to decry its financial management and expenses.

"In general, it pretty much shows what we knew all along - that we were doing more with less," Pickerington Police Cmdr. Matt Delp said. "We have less officers and a higher workload than our peers, and we have a lower crime rate.

"We're doing a good job."

Delp pointed to portions of the audit that lauded the department's efforts to reduce overtime pay by offering flexible scheduling for employees who are approaching 40 hours of work prior to the end of the work week, as well as the "high degree of operational efficiencies relative to the peer average."

According to Schornack, the police department will receive approximately $2.67 million in funding in 2012 from the city's approximately $8.2 million general-operating budget. He said police funding represents about 32.5 percent of the city's total operating budget.

The performance audit noted the department also receives approximately $1.4-million in annual funding from a voter-approved 5.5-mill police levy.

According to the audit, starting compensation for Pickerington police officers is 4.2 percent higher than the peer average. Ending compensation is 11 percent higher than the peer average. Over a 30-year career, the audit stated, compensation for Pickerington police officers is approximately $198,000, or 11.3 percent higher than the peer average.

"The city should consider adjusting the police officer compensation structure to bring it more in line with the peer average compensation structure," the audit stated. "To do so, the city could limit future negotiated wage increases, renegotiate salary schedules for current staff or develop a dual salary schedule for all new employees that is in line with the peer average."

The audit also said the city should consider requiring police employees to pay a higher share of the medical, dental and vision insurance premiums.

"Despite paying premiums that are lower than the State Employment Relations Board average, (the audit) shows the city's total annual insurance premiums are approximately 5.3 percent above the SERB average," the audit stated. "This disparity is caused by employee contribution rates that are lower than the SERB average."

Delp said lowering police pay and requiring higher contributions for health care is easier said than done during negotiations, and added that such actions could affect the department's quality of service.

"The things they want us to do are lower the amount of pay for officers and raise the amount of money they pay for health care," Delp said. "That seems fairly obvious. If you pay employees less and make them pay more benefits, of course we'll save money.

"We also get what we pay for," he added. "If you want professional officers who are intelligent, dedicated and don't leave the city open to legal liabilities, you've got to pay them good salaries and provide good benefits."

Related to a vehicle-replacement plan, the audit said Pickerington should implement one that analyzes all city vehicles. It said the plan should account for the type and use of vehicle, as well as the average lifecycle cost by type, age and mileage to identify replacements.

Both Delp and Schornack said the police department and city are trying to develop a vehicle-replacement plan. Currently, Delp said, the department attempts to replace a police vehicle once it reaches 100,000 miles.

Aside from those suggested areas for change, the audit said the city's overall crime statistics indicate a "high degree of operational effectiveness."

The department's "overall operational efficiency and effectiveness has allowed the department to provide the city's residents with adequate force protection without requiring additional staff," the audit said.