City Council member proposes rent/mortgage grants to recruit, keep officers

City Council member proposes rent-mortgage grants to recruit keep officers

COLUMBIA, Mo - Columbia City Council Member Matt Pitzer proposed an initiative on Tuesday that aims to make Columbia more attractive to public safety workers such as police officers and firefighters. 

The proposal has two main sections: recruitment and retainment.

For recruiting, Pitzer's initiative would offer $500 in monthly rent assistance to new officers and firefighters for their first six months of service, on the condition that the person is living within the city limits.

To retain more public safety employees, the initiative proposes offering "down payment assistance in the form of a matching grant." Employees looking to buy a home that is within city borders would be eligible for up to $5,000 of assistance for five years and $10,000 for 10 years.

An additional $5,000 would be offered to officers and firefighters who choose to live in one of the city's strategic plan neighborhoods.

Pitzer requested that the City Council fund the initiative by allocating $500,000 from the remaining money in the 2017 budget. He said there is nearly $3 million remaining in the budget. That money would "fund up to 30 new hires and 30 home buyers (all in strategic neighborhoods)" through this initiative, according to Pitzer.

At its last meeting, the City Council chose to move forward on creating a citywide community policing plan. Many have said, however, that the department does not the staffing to pull off such a plan.

"We want to encourage folks to make the long-term commitments to this city," Pitzer said. "[The initiative] will help us with some of the recruiting problems we've had, and it will help us as we introduce community-oriented policing."

Pitzer also said the program could be "replenished" if there is enough interest. 

In terms of funding, the initiative would be supported by a "one-time" allocation of funds. It does not include any pay raises for police officers, which Dale Roberts, Executive Director of the Columbia Police Officers Association, has previously said is long overdue.

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