No one’s got much money. Folks are leaving town. Tax revenues are falling. Where’s the silver lining?
How about this: Overall, crimes are down.
In fact, the calls to 911 have dropped almost 30 percent from their peak. That’s a decrease of 8,000 since calls peaked at 28,000 in 2010.
Moreover, arrests have fallen by about 10 percent — to roughly 1,100 annually. Now, that’s still an awful lot of arrests for a town this size, but hey — gotta like the trend.
In fact, the crime numbers look great all across the board, with the exception of a rash of minor thefts from unlocked cars.
Heck, even auto accidents have plunged — down 35 percent since 2007.
Mind you, all these encouraging trends have come even though Payson Police Department’s patrol division has functioned for most of the year with just 13 patrol officers and four patrol sergeants — that’s down by about five positions from the adopted budget.
Moreover, that big drop in car accidents came without an officer assigned full time to traffic duties, handing out tickets to slow down all those reckless drivers.
Nothing but good news there: Doing more with less. Go Payson. In fact, seems like the fewer officers we’ve got driving around, the lower the crime rate. Probably just a statistical quirk, but it is kind of weird.
In fact, the department spent most of the year about seven officers short of full staffing. That could explain how the department managed to stay $500,000 under budget. Mind you, the town’s revenues remain soft and Payson’s spending more than it takes in.
Bottom line: we can really use $500,000 in savings from not loading up on police officers. Hey — and that’s just the short term. Turns out, public safety employees cost a lot in the long term as well — with pensions better than most and high training and disability costs. Several studies have documented worrisome shortfalls in the state retirement system for police and firefighters that could cost cities and towns dearly to fix.
But at least the vacancies in the Payson Police Department don’t seem to have harmed the public — judging by the dwindling crime rate.
Now, we’d take our smidgen of comfort from this particular silver lining but for one little problem. Payson’s scurrying to hire more police officers as fast as it can find them. Reportedly, we’ve got five new officers in training right now — which will bring the department back up to nearly full staffing. And that in turn will strain the budget in both the short and long term.
Gee. Let’s hope it doesn’t raise the crime rate.
On not getting smushed
Well. That was quick. No sooner did the Payson school board approve adding an administrator to boost student achievement than Superintendent Ron Hitchcock found himself said Director of Student Achievement.
As it turns out, Hitchcock picked one of the consultants that did a study recommending the district hire a, well, director of student achievement.
So, welcome to the roller coaster, Brenda Case — find yourself a nice seat up front.
Mind you, we don’t mean to be snarky about either the decision to hire a director of student achievement — or the choice of Ms. Case. She has an impressive background as a consultant and serving as the turnaround principal for troubled schools facing federal takeover as a result of lousy test scores.
It’s just that we’re a little unsettled by the frothing state and federal reformers’ determination to impose their standardized view of the world on every school district everywhere. In Arizona, they’ve decided to grade the schools based mostly on student test scores — and then link funding to the formula. Next, they’re insisting districts promote — or fire — teachers based on test scores.
Mind you, Arizona has also decided to give up on the AIMS test, which was the last bright idea intended to solve all our problems. It never worked, but they want to replace it with some national test. Good luck with that.
So we probably do need someone focused obsessively on making sense of all the mandates — and keeping the district from getting smushed into the hot tar by the blind steamroller driver.
Hopefully, Hitchcock’s focus on boosting student achievement will bear fruit. If nothing else, it ought to convince the district to protect the programs that have worked — like Gear Up and Response to Intervention. Mashing every student into cookie-cutter tests doesn’t make much sense — but using testing to catch students before they fall makes all the sense in the world. We hope Case will build on that great start.
Otherwise, make sure the roll bar is in the locked position, keep your arms and legs in the roller coaster at all times — and don’t worry if you feel like screaming. We’re pretty sure they can’t hear you down in the state capital anyhow.