Baker’s police chief, mayor squabble over new police hires

Police Chief Mike Knapps and Mayor Harold Rideau clashed Tuesday over the budget and the Police Department’s request for new hires.

“The public needs to know that if there are reduced services, it’s not by the choice of the Baker Police Department or the police chief. I’m asking for new employees,” Knapps told Rideau at a committee meeting to discuss the Police Department’s budget.

Baker City Council members Joyce Burges, Pete Heine and Charles Vincent attended the meeting.

Rideau told Knapps he doesn’t want to hire someone, then have to lay them off later.

The mayor said he and Knapps had to work together to figure out how to keep the city’s budget balanced as revenue drops year after year.

Rideau told Knapps he knows he’s unhappy but, “We gotta balance the budget.”

Knapps shot back, “You’ve already told me that behind the closed doors” then walked out at the end of the meeting.

The flared tempers are partly the result of declining or nearly flat city sales tax revenue.

In past years, the City Council has been able to use surplus general fund money — about $9 million — to balance the budget annually. Rideau has said the city spends approximately $1 million more than it takes in.

The surplus has shrunk to about $900,000, which gives the city about one year of a safety net.

At one point during Tuesday’s budget presentation, a frustrated Knapps asked why he should even present a budget for the City Council to approve if he has no control over it.

He said he was down three communications officers and short one patrolman with the possibility of losing a second patrol officer and warned that the lack of staff would lead to soaring overtime costs for the city.

Rideau said the city has to find a way to live within its means.

“I’m trying to save money from this year so we can have some money for next year and I’m asking for some cooperation,” Rideau said.