A Penny for Peace
Salinas asks voters to support a sales-tax increase to fund cops.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
First Salinas needed money for libraries. Now the city is asking residents to fund more police. The City Council Tuesday, July 21 approved putting a one-cent, public safety/essential services tax measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The tax measure would generate $18 million a year beginning next July. Without the new revenue, city officials say nearly 69 jobs would have to be cut next fiscal year. Due to the recession, which has caused drops in sales and property taxes, the city has a $5.7 million shortfall in 2010-11.
“If we want to have a city that is safe, that provides services to residents, we have to do this,” Councilwoman Jyl Lutes says.
The city cut $13.2 million from its budget this fiscal year with employee concessions, freezing 15 police positions, eliminating four community service officers and other reductions. In addition to filling in these gaps, the council wants to start hiring more officers, as outlined in Police Chief Louis Fetherolf’s 90-day report, also presented July 21.
Fetherolf wants 131 new police personnel, including 73 sworn officers, to get a grip on the city’s gang problem and implement community policing. With 1.12 officers per 1,000 residents, Salinas has the second fewest officers per capita in the county, and second highest rate of violent crime, compared to similarly sized cities in the state, he says.
“Maintaining the status quo is, in reality, moving backwards,” Fetherolf writes. “Our crime problem is growing. Our population is growing. The Salinas Police Department is not.”
Councilman Steve Villegas, a retired detective, agrees: “We keep saying we are going to make this a city of peace, but there is no way in hell we can do it with the [police] presence we have now.”
Fetherolf wants to integrate officers into neighborhoods to provide “genuine empathetic service” and hire and retain more bilingual officers. Now they are in crisis mode, responding from one call to the next, and less than 25 percent of sworn personnel speak Spanish.
The new chief also says the department needs a new $40 million facility. “There are regular plumbing failures, limited restroom facilities and the place smells horrible,” Fetherolf writes, adding that the evidence room in the basement should not be inhabited, and evidence storage is spread out over five off-site locations.
Fetherolf also wants to hire six more investigators and change the policy of rotating detectives back into patrol within a two – to five-year period: “There is no long-term investment in building seasoned detectives.”
In all, the chief’s staffing request would cost $15.4 million a year, says City Manager Artie Fields, adding the city would recoup some of the public safety costs by attracting more businesses and shoppers. “If we are going to be a city where people want to live and shop, we need to provide a certain level of safety,” he says.
But the department’s future is tied to the success of the tax. Fields says a poll conducted in May found 63 percent of likely voters would support a one-cent sales tax, despite the fact that only four years ago voters approved Measure V, a half-cent sales tax, to save the city’s libraries. “I don’t think this community went far enough back then,” Fields says. “We put a Band-Aid on it.”