Santa Paula Council: Public Safety Sustainability Funding

By Sheryl Hamlin

This is part two of a two part report on the September 8, 2015 Santa Paula City council meeting. Click here for part one.

Crime and Public Safety Funding

Funding for public safety has been addressed in various ways for the last several years in Santa Paula. The city has received a SAFER Grant for about $900,000 for the fire department. The Limoneira Corporation made a $750,000 grant of $250,000 a year for three years specifically for armed police with the city matching that amound. And in the last major election, the city tried to pass a specific tax of 1% to fund fire, police and road maintenance. This failed without receiving the necessary 2/3 vote as required for a “specific” tax.

During the budget process, the city kept the public safety at minimal levels. But with recent increases in crime, as detailed in the staff report, the city is looking again at funding for Public Safety.

Earlier in the meeting, City Manager Fontes reported on an RFP he was preparing to find a special firm who specializes in public safety funding, city budgets and state tax measures. He said that the item on the agenda tonight was to consider possible approaches to address the crime issue saying that 1) Santa Paula has a large active gang population, 2) Proposition 47 released inmates who returned to their origin and 3) socio-economic contributors, such as living environment and schools, all of which take years to address. He suggested an open discussion with the council. The council asked Rhonda McKaig, who was instrumental in the Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula Measure F in 2014, to speak first. Ms. McKaig provided a summary of the committee’s work since the election. This committee included two Council Members: Mayor Proctor and Council Member Crosswhite.

rhonda

Rhonda McKaig

The committee’s recommendations included:

  1. Adopt a series of anti-crime and anti-violence ordinances. Refer to the city of Hemet and its program ‘ROCS’ as a model, Restoring our Community Strategy.
  2. Enforce new and existing ordinances regarding public safety and code enforcement. Establish a voluntary code enforcement team which the city will train.
  3. Research the viability of ½ cent sales tax all going to police services and police youth programs.
  4. Research and reallocate dollars for funding for police in the budget.
  5. Coordinate with local social services and youth programs to hold a one day event to connect them with one another and share.
  6. Improve the city’s website about all public services, youth programs, and events.

She stressed that the community perception is that nothing significant or meaningful is being done on these issues and said the council must set time for these recommendations. Crime affects everyone, she said.

The council discussed this item with the mayor saying that ROCS will be requested as a future agenda item. He also asked City Attorney Cotti to explain the different type of ballot measures and the timeframes for each.

Vice Mayor Hernandez said he wants to “create a strong city” with a 98% buy-in this time of the plan, whatever it may be.

Council Member Gherardi said they must look at long term financing of the city in a comprehensive approach. They are two months behind because of the summer recess. There must be a financially viable plan, she said.

Council Member Tovias revisited the RFP previously reported by City Manager Fontes asking for price and timeframe and more details.

Mr. Fontes replied saying the RFP would ask to compare these options: the initiative processes (general tax, specific tax, property tax), restructuring the department administratively and joining the county fire district. He was looking for a firm with expertise in all three in addition to municipal budgeting. It would take at least 90 days and more than $50,000.

Mr. Tovias then revisited a proposal he had made at a previous council meeting similar to what Fillmore does with the Fire department. We would have one chief, one assistant chief and three captains with the rest reserves at $125 day which is more than the $50 per day the city now pays reserve fire fighters. He said that this would free up $1 million in the General Fund. Then he said, when East Area One comes in, they can make adjustments.

Council Member Crosswhite said that the SAFER Grant required “no front line personnel be laid off”. City Attorney Cotti agreed saying that some funds would have to be returned to the federal government.

Council Member Gherardi asked Chief McCledan about police vacancies. He said 32 were authorized and two more are starting next week so they will have 30 officers. Both are already from the academy so can go on the street immediately with a partner.

Council Member Gherardi asked why an RFP was necessary? Mr. Fontes said they were looking for a very unique skillset: knows the fire department financing, city financing and the initiative process. Council Member said they need to know  about funding options in the city budget as they affect the Fire Department’s budget.

Council Member Hernandez repeated a previous theme: we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Prevention/intervention programs are needed to stop multigenerational gangs. He said we are marginalizing one depart for another by taking from the Fire department to give to the Police department. There is no quick fix. He said Measure F was rushed and not thought out and it bifurcated the voters by marginalizing one department.

Mr. Tovias said he is not marginalizing anyone, but we need financial numbers from the Finance Director. There are shootings and stabbings each week. Maybe an officer needs to be shot, he said, to make the point. We need to bring experienced officers to Santa Paula. He then said there are more gang members in Santa Paula than in 9-% of the cities in the nation, but did not give the source for this statistic.

Mayor Procter questioned how to approach the fire funding if we are not sure what will be the disposition of the department. 

Council Member Cherardi said there is not enough information but they can start with some of Ms. McKaig’s suggestions.

Council Member Hernandez said that going with the county district had a cost which had to be compared.

As to timing, City Attorney Cotti said that a General Tax would only be on the November ballot. A General Tax only required a simple majority and could have an “advisory resolution” to specify the use of the funds. A citizens advisory committee would monitor the funds.  A Special Tax, which was the Measure F approach, can be in April or November, but needs 2/3 of the vote and the language must be ready 80 days before the election, which means by January 2015. He said an Assessment District also requires a 2/3 vote and a statewide election.

Council Member asked about the costs for each type. Mr. Cotti said it was $25,000 for Measure F.

Council Member Crosswhite brought up the issue of community mentioning an article she had just read “Changing the World one Block at a time”.  How do we foster this sense of community, she asked? How do we reclaim a park or the bike path? She also mentioned the Monrovia Area Partnership (MAP) as a model.

Mr. Fontes said that they were running out of time for the April ballot. Council Member Gherardi said it is not practical to go with another initiative before November 2016.

After some confusion, there were two motions: one to return by the first week of October with more information and the other to receive and file Ms. McKaig’s report. All were approved unanimously.

Santa Paula Youth Advisory Committee

Elisabeth Paniagua reported on the establishment of the Santa Paula Youth Advisory Committee. This was a project started prior to the break. Since then, by-laws and organizational structure have been created. The student group will meet independently of the council, but will come and present when an issue is formulated. There will be an agenda item for them as a placeholder. Council Member suggested returning the term to two years. The Ad Hoc committee which has two council members and members from the public does not have to be noticed, nor does the student committee because there is no legislation. Ms. Paniagua said that three students from the club had already expressed interest, which is encouraging. This was approved unanimously. Application forms for the Ad Hoc Committee will be available on-line and announced just like other city committees. Details can be found in the staff report along with the by-laws for the group.

Elisabeth Paniagua

Elisabeth Paniagua

Future Agenda Items

Council Member Gherardi requested the issue of the red-tagged Corporate Yard restroom be addressed.

Mayor Procter suggested they revisit Ms. McKaig’s suggestions.

Council Member Gherardi said the initiative and Fire Department funding should be on every agenda as a placeholder, so they can bring up information as it is developed. City Attorney Cotti said that placeholder items must have adequate documentation for the public.

Council Member Crosswhite suggested the Monrovia MAPS Program in addition to the Hemet program suggested by Ms. McKaig.

The meeting was adjourned.

To watch the entire meeting, please click here.

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For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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Sheryl Hamlin

$50,000 for an analysis the finance department should do? Did everyone forget the FY 2015/2016 budget is actually negative $190,000 and only balanced with an unaudited fund carryover …

https://citizensjournal.us/santa-paula-fiscal-year-2015-2016-budget-analysis-3/