Morrison Police looking to property taxes to hire new officer

MORRISON, Illinois-- The Morrison Police Chief says his department needs to hire a new police officer.

"It's just becoming more a stretch to get things taken care of and respond appropriately," Chief Brian Melton said.

There are six officers on the police force, and they've been short an officer since one retired in 2010.

"Some days are a bigger challenge than others," Chief Melton said. "We're a small town. We're a small police agency."

The department is turning to the public for what Chief Melton calls a last resort.

"Not too many options left because nobody likes a tax increase," he said. "Nobody wants to pay more in taxes. Getting to the consideration of the referendum was kind of the last resort."

When people go to vote in the November elections, there's an extra question on the ballots in Morrison. It's the Police Protection Tax Referendum. It would increase how much money the police department gets from property taxes from .075 percent to .225 percent.

"That triples the rate, but the impact is still, I would say, relatively minimal," Chief Molten said.

Chief Molten said it'll cost $77,000 for the new officer's first year to cover their salary, benefits, training and equipment.

He said the referendum wouldn't necessarily mean a tax increase, although property taxes fluctuate year-to-year based on other factors. Chief Molten said he needs a bigger piece of the pie to hire a new officer.

"The day to day stuff here in Morrison keeps us really busy and it can be a real challenge sometimes investigating a crime, responding to a call if we're otherwise busy," he said.

Morrison is also seeing a greater need for an officer. Melton said crime is going up and they're getting more calls. This year, he expects to see a three percent increase in the number of calls they get compared to 2016. That's about 100 more calls this small department will have to respond to.

Morrison also has one of the highest ratios of officers to people. There's only one officer for every 690 people in the city. The national average is one officer for every 461 people.

Melton also said a new officer would allow them to have a dedicated investigator, lessening the workload on each officer.

"They're stressed. They work long hours, 12-hour shifts," Mel Johnson said, who attended a community forum Wednesday, Aug. 17 about the referendum. "For what you're gonna get for it, it's money well spent. You want to be able to put your head on your pillow at night and know you're safe."

Others aren't so sure this is the best way to spend taxpayer money.

"I think instead additional officer, maybe they should go to helping the public out in a different avenue," Steven Brady said. "I think they have enough [officers]."

If the referendum passes, the city council would make the final decision to increase the percentage the police department receives from property taxes. Melton said that increase would start in May and that he could even hire a new officer before then. He said he's already taking applications for the job.