Burnsville’s police needs called ‘urgent’ 

Employees complain of burnout. Many consider leaving their jobs. Some cops suffer sleep deprivation as police overtime mounts. Firefighter-paramedics are swamped with calls that have risen 40% in a decade.

An organizational study of Burnsville city government says it’s understaffed, overworked, and hasn’t kept up with its residents’ needs or the pace of new hiring in comparable suburbs.

Burnsville needs to add 56 full-time employees in the next four years at an estimated cost of $8 million, according to Clifton, Larson and Allen, a consultant the city hired to study staffing needs.

Police and fire are the top priorities, at 11.5 and 16 positions respectively, but new hires are recommended for every city department except Recreation and Facilities.

Anticipating significant hiring needs, the city’s financial consultant, Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, has recommended city levy increases of 10% in 2023, 10.1% in 2024 and 11.7% in 2025 — Burnsville’s largest property tax hikes in memory.

The City Council last month directed staff to begin 2023 budget work with a range of increases from 5.7% to the full 10%.

At a work session Tuesday where council remembers received the staffing report, Council Member Dan Gustafson set the stage for political battles over taxes that may lie ahead.

He asked if a 5.7% increase would allow for any new hiring next year.

Probably not, under current budget plans, responded Dan Tienter of Ehlers, the city’s interim finance director.

The organizational study recommends adding 18.5 positions next year followed by 13.5 in 2024, 13 in 2025 and 12 in 2026.

Burnsville’s population has grown more than 5.5% since 2006, but the number of full-time positions per 1,000 residents has only returned to 2006 levels after years of decline and restoration, the study said.

Since then the community’s population has grown more diverse and its needs more complex, and citizen expectations have risen, it said.

An online employee survey that drew 163 responses and conversations with 96 employees show feeling of burnout and being behind in their work, the study said. Half of survey respondents “seriously considered” leaving their jobs in the last year.

“I did not like reading that,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.

The city is spending $2.18 million a year in overtime and a like amount in employee turnover costs, the study said. Ninety percent of management employees work more than 50 hours a week.

Burnsville, with 289 full-time employees, ranks seventh among 10 comparable suburbs at 4.6 per 1,000 residents, the study said. Minnetonka tops the list at 6.7. Apple Valley is at 4.5 and Eagan at 4.4

Burnsville has added 6.5 full-time positions since 2008, and staffing has remained steady since 2018, the study said.

Meanwhile, on average, many comparable cities are adding five to six new full-time employees a year, said Bethany Brewer, Burnsville’s organizational development and strategic initiatives manager.

The 91-member Police Department has 10.5 fewer full-time positions than it had in 2006. More officers and supervisors are “essential due to the increasing complexity of calls and the time required to resolve” them, the study said.

Police overtime hours have increased nearly 50% since 2013, leading to burnout and sleep deprivation, it said. The overall volume of calls has been stable, but their complexity and time spent on them have risen, the study said. The need for extra patrol responses on calls has risen three to five times since 2013. More time and resources are needed to de-escalate incidents and engage with the community.

With the post-2006 staffing dearth the department has lost a traffic unit, street crimes unit, middle school resource officer and county drug task force member, Brewer said.

Police “would be considered the most urgent of the needs,” she said.

The 45-member Fire Department has seen the number of calls rise by almost 40% since 2011 while full-time positions have risen only 10%, the study said. Mandatory overtime is more common, leading to staff burnout. The city must rely more frequently on mutual-aid cities for call responses.

And with medical calls comprising 80% of the load, the rise is expected to continue.

“I feel like we’ve done a disservice to supporting what the data was telling us years ago,” Council Member Dan Kealey said of the Fire Department statistics. Police and fire are “where my priority is going to be throughout this budget process,” he said.

Government in general needs to do more to affect cultural change to prevent public safety problems, Council Member Cara Schulz said.

“We are really focused on staunching the bleeding on the back end of what’s happening,” she said. “That’s what’s straining our police and fire.”

Both departments have applied for federal grants to meet some of the staffing needs, but officials say success is uncertain. And the city must pick up the full costs of new hires after the three-year grants expire. Police are seeking funding to partially fund five positions. Fire is seeking funding for six.

Recommended additions of full-time employees in other city departments are: four for City Manager/City Clerk, 3.5 for Communications, four for Community Development, three for Finance, three for Human Resources, four for Information Technology and seven for Public Works (four of which would be user-paid enterprise fund positions).

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