PROSSER -- Finding money to replace aging patrol cars and to pay for overtime and ammunition are some of the major budget increases facing the Prosser Police Department next year.
Prosser City Council members listened this week as John Markus, interim Prosser police chief, explained his proposed budget for next year.
Closing the city's dispatch center and holding cells -- eliminating five positions -- will save money on one hand, he said. But it likely would result in officers spending more time hauling suspects 30 miles to the Benton County jail in Kennewick instead of being out on patrol.
With one officer tied up transporting suspects, another would have to be pulled in to work, Markus said.
Losing the Prosser jail also means they won't be able to use the department's breathalyzer machine for DUI suspects.
"Instead, we'll need to use the DUI machines at Benton County and may need to wait in line to use them," Markus said.
The 2012 budget includes $39,393 for overtime, the projected figure for 2013 is $53,000.
Office and operating costs would rise from $16,650 this year to an estimated $29,000 in 2013, primarily because ammunition costs have climbed considerably, he said.
A poll of the Prosser officers revealed they have two major concerns: the police department's building needs to be remodeled or replaced and they need reliable cars.
Of the 12 vehicles the city owns now, just five are in what Markus called "good working condition."
The others have various mechanical problems.
"City miles are tough on patrol cars. We're in and out of them constantly, door handles come off in your hand. Some have suspension issues, their shocks and struts are worn and the car squeaks and groans," he told the council.
One has an electrical problem -- its headlights don't work and it doesn't always start. Another emits blue smoke and has worn out tires and a slipping transmission.
Six of the vehicles really need replacing, either by buying new or leasing, Markus said.
Council members are reluctant to buy six at once. Instead, Councilman Steve Becken said, "I'd really like to see the department get on a program where money is set aside to buy one a year."
The council asked for more information on a leasing program.
"We may want to move on the vehicle problem earlier, not wait for the budget," said Councilman Morgan Everett.
As for the building, officers have concerns about their working conditions.
"If we have more than three suspects, we have to use the council chamber, which is not safe and secure. At times we've had gang members spread out through this whole building with pieces of paper on the doors saying, "Do not enter," Markus said.
The police department also needs additional officers. Raul Sabalza was sworn in Tuesday night, but he'll spend five months attending a police academy, another three months in training and "then he'll still be really green," Markus said. Ideally, he'd like to have 11 to 12 officers; only nine are on staff now.
The council plans to discuss the police department budget again, including the question of remodeling the current offices or constructing a new building.
"A new building won't do them any good without enough police officers and vehicles to get them where they need to go," said Councilman Scott Hamilton. "They need the manpower and tools to do their job."