North Charleston's police detectives — who boasted a couple of the sharpest dressed cops around — aren't going to be nearly as snazzy as they used to be.
City Council this year opted to cut the taxpayer-funded clothing allowance ranking officers received to offset the cost of their work-related dress clothes.
The extra money, pegged as high as $850 for members of the city's detective division, went for the ties, shoes, shirts and sport coats that made detectives look good at crime scenes or when they were called on to testify in court.
The perk had been around for some time and was widely recognized as a bonus rooted in the past when detectives weren't making excessive salaries.
But this year, City Council and Mayor Keith Summey said the police department's salaries are more competitive with other municipalities in South Carolina. And, with an extra-lean budget year looming ahead, it's also time for the clothing perk to be clipped, they reasoned.
"We don't furnish a clothing allowance for any other employees," Summey said this week.
The cut affects every officer from detective rank and above, which means that as many as 44 department officials are losing the bonus. For taxpayers, the cost savings is more than $34,000.
A couple of city detectives declined to comment about how their "style" might change when the money dries up. North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt also conceded it is a tough year for the budget. "I am looking at some ways to problem-solve this in the future," he said.
Police clothing allowances aren't unique to North Charleston. Various local departments offer a bonus in some form. Mount Pleasant, for instance, provides about $500 a year for its plain-clothes officers, with a requirement that officers turn in receipts for what they bought.
"They have to buy something" with the money, said town administrator Mac Burdette. The money is also taxed, he said.
Charleston County sheriff's officials required to dress in suit coats, which includes detectives, warrant officers and process-servers, get a clothing allowance of $400 a year, though the allocation is under review, spokesman Maj. John Clark said.
City of Charleston non-uniformed police officials get a stipend of $700 for the 2009 budget year that ends in December, said Bob Miracle, the city's deputy chief financial officer.
The town of Summerville provides an allowance for its non-uniformed personnel of about $750 a year for about 15 employees.
Meanwhile, North Charleston leaders said their budget remains one of the most bare-bones spending plans they've seen. The $82.2 million budget includes no tax increases, layoffs or furloughs of city staff. But there are no employee pay increases or money for new equipment either.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or firstname.lastname@example.org.