CALIFORNIA CITY — As it continues to craft a budget for the remainder of the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year, the City Council, on Tuesday, discussed proposals from the Police and Fire Departments, which would use revenue from the Special Parcel Tax, to increase staffing. The Tax was approved in July, by voters.
The budget discussions will continue this week until the document is finalized.
The city has been operating under an interim budget, passed in two parts, since the July 1 start of the fiscal year. The first, approved June 26, was a two-month budget to allow the city to continue to operate under the 2017-2018 budget until after the July 31 election in which voters were asked to approve a Special Parcel Tax to provide funding for the city’s police and fire departments.
Without the Special Tax, the city would lose a significant portion of its revenue and be required to make drastic cuts, including laying off as many as 41 city employees.
Once the Special Tax passed, the City Council approved a second interim budget in August, which extended the existing budget authority for three months, to Nov. 30. This was intended to allow time to audit city operations and craft a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.
City officials, however, were unable to find an outside firm willing to perform an operations audit, so that has not been part of the budget process.
The biggest changes proposed between the two departments discussed Tuesday, are in the Fire Department, where Fire Chief David Goodell has proposed a staffing model with five personnel on duty, capable of operating in two squads, simultaneously, if needed. Currently, the staffing model calls for four personnel on duty at a time, a level that is sometimes reached only by using overtime.
This “two-piece/five-person” model would staff the full-service fire engine with three people and a smaller vehicle staffed with two people, that will be tasked with the majority of the medical emergency calls. Each would have at least one paramedic.
The model provides the Department with flexibility in answering calls, Goodell said.
Depending on the needs, both squads could respond together to an emergency call, or be split to respond to two simultaneously — something that is not an infrequent occurrence in the city.
The smaller squad is more economical for answering medical calls and will save some wear and tear on the more expensive engine.
This staffing model will require adding three engineer positions to the Department roster, one for each shift, bringing the total number of positions to 20, from the current 17.
These engineers can serve in a supervisory role, with one assigned to the two-person vehicle with a firefighter, Goodell said. The three-person squad would consist of a captain, engineer and firefighter.
With the additional personnel, the Department can also better meet needs for prevention, mitigation, code compliance and public education roles.
Despite the additional positions, the Fire Department’s proposed budget of nearly $3.06 million is less than the 2017-2018 budget of $3.15 million. Most of that difference is in the reduction of overtime, according to the budget proposal.
The budget also includes $300,000 in lease payments to purchase new equipment.
The Police Department is also looking to increase the number of positions authorized in its proposed budget, bringing the total number of officers authorized, from 27 to 35.
Although it plans to increase the number of positions authorized, the Department has many vacancies in its ranks, with the force fluctuating in recent years from seven to 21 officers, according to the budget proposal. The Department has been actively recruiting to fill positions with officers transferring from other agencies, but has not be able to fill all of the positions this way, Police Chief Eric Hurtado said.
To address the gap, the Department is recruiting recent college graduates and service members to put through a Sheriff or Police Academy for training.
For five recruits, this will cost an estimated $275,000.
With this step, Hurtado estimates the Department will have a force of 17 full-time, sworn officers by the end of the Fiscal Year.
“What people really want from our police force are more boots on the ground, not boots behind desks,” Mayor Jennifer Wood said. “That’s the number one priority … They want more visibility of our officers.”
The nearly $4.36 million proposed budget includes four jailers, dispatchers, animal control officers and administrative personnel. With anticipated hirings, this is about $682,000 more than 2017-2018’s spending.
The police budget also includes funds to add updated locater technology in patrol vehicles to quicken response to calls by being able to send the closest officer to urgent calls.