Noralea Gipner: Community help needed with police funding issue

Martinez City Council

There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks that the police department is not getting a fair shake in terms of their salaries as they compare to our neighboring cities. Believe me, I am extremely unhappy about the situation I find our city in. That being, the police want more for their wage, but our finances do not look good.

A large part of the Martinez budget is made up of the General Fund which consists of taxes (e.g. property, sales, transit occupancy), fees, permits, and charges for service, which are not comparable to the other cities surrounding us, it is much lower.

The General Fund pays for general services, which consists of primarily police services, parks, recreation, and economic development. The rest of the city’s budget consists of internal funds, enterprise funds and capital improvement projects (parks and roads), these cannot be used to pay for general services.

Martinez is a built out community, which means we have very little land left for building lots of new homes or large new businesses. Therefore, our General Fund revenues are growing very slowly or not at all compared to other cities. We are working hard to bring new business into our existing commercial areas and downtown, but it will happen slowly over many years. As a result, we need to be cautious in how we spend city revenues.

The General Fund Budget is set up with different pockets of money (accounts) to cover specific items. The Police Department takes up 50 percent of the General Fund Budget. We can’t arbitrarily move money from one pocket to another. If we do, that may mean more money for police, but less money for park maintenance. So we need to always consider what impacts our budget decisions have on all the city’s services.

And we want all our citizen’s input. We need to decide as a community how we want to spend our limited funds.

Do we cut park funds? Let’s remember we voted to spend $30 million dollars to upgrade all of our parks including the library and pool. Right now we are three people short in our Parks Maintenance Department. Do we cut our new Community/Economic Department, which was set up just months ago to draw money to the city through new business and property development? Do we cut our senior programs? Do we cut our children programs in the parks? These are just a few ideas.

It has been said the city has a very healthy reserve balance so why not use this to increase police salaries? It is important to understand the difference in one-time versus on-going expenses. Salaries for employees are on-going, it doesn’t stop once you increase it. Money for supplies, equipment and park improvements are examples of one-time expenses. Once you spend it you are done, it doesn’t occur again.

That means the city’s reserves can’t be used for police salaries. Think of our reserves as the city’s rainy day fund, if there is a major calamity we have it to weather the storm and get us back on our feet.

For example the city of Martinez, like all cities in California are facing higher pension costs and the reason is that CALPERS has finally adjusted the rates to reflect the true costs of paying future retirees pensions. It’s is now projected that the City will see an increase of approximately $1.5 million in costs over the next three years.

The city is facing a few more significant expenses in the coming year(s), such as the Pleasant Hill-Martinez Joint Facilities Agency. We do not know what the full financial ramifications are yet, but I anticipate it will be a one time big hit on our reserves as well as new ongoing expenses.

Now I would like to talk to you about the needs of our police department as I understand it. They need more money to retain and attract officers of quality. Some of our officers have told me they choose to come to work in Martinez because they feel the citizens and business owners appreciate them and respect them.

Martinez is also known for superior ongoing training, a low crime rate, and the camaraderie in the department is exceptional. While I am sure our neighboring cities are very proud of their communities, I don’t think many can offer the work environment in the Police Department that Martinez does. It is for this reason that when a person decides to work in Martinez, the decision cannot be made based on salary alone. Over 35 years ago, I had to make that decision myself. I chose to stay in Martinez, knowing that I could make a higher salary elsewhere.

The problem retaining and attracting police officers is not just a Martinez problem. All the cities in the Bay Area and California in general are having trouble attracting police officers.

Martinez is lucky to have a fabulous Police Department, which I admire very much. I feel the same about all our hardworking dedicated employees. Therefore, we need to do all we can to attract and retain quality employees so we can provide our citizens the best service we can. But we need to realize as a built out City with limited revenue growth potential, our options for funding services is very limited. While it will be very difficult for us to compete with our neighbors, we need to put our heads together and get creative. Please contact me with your suggestions

5 Replies to “Noralea Gipner: Community help needed with police funding issue

  1. Build houses at Pine Meadows Golf Course to generate additional tax revenue. We cannot afford another park that can be maintained!

  2. I think the point here is the way unprofessional way the police have gone about this.

    I support them, but not impressed by their childish tactics on this one. If you want to bargain a contract, this wouldn’t be how to go about it. In fact, it turns me off to their cause.

  3. This is not as simple as some are making it out to be. Police are a top priority, but money voted for parks years ago cannot just be given to police. Even if the council could give that money to the police, they would be breaking rules doing it and be in trouble. From what I understand a contract was made a few years ago and agreed upon. So it has to be negotiated and agreed upon again before more money can be diverted to police. All the Council and Mayor live in Martinez and also depend on Police. And not that they do not care about others, they do, and the city to be safe etc., but even politically they are working on it. I do not think it is fair to lay the blame on the council or Mayor for this issue. It is important and I hope it is worked out ASAP and we stop losing officers and hire enough to police our city. Also I hope we can pay them what they deserve and also have competitive pay for them compared to other cities. But this has been spun politically to make it look like all they care about a ball field and park more than police, which is not true. If they could have seen into the future how ever many years ago it was and made their pay etc more back then when the contract was signed to have avoided this situation they would have. How could we have known what other cities would do the following year or whenever when they made new contracts with their police department? So suddenly some other cities can out bid us for police and even take our newly trained police for better pay and benefits .. I just hope Martinez can compete and find the money to at least equal what some other cities are now able to pay. Or beat them. Then in a year or two the other cities will up the pay and so it goes. But in my opinion making this political is hurting your cause and crying wolf in an election year people are smart enough I think to see through this also and when you have a legitimate gripe or criticism you will lose the trust of a lot of voters and once again this will backfire, because again it is not as simple as some are saying and I see so much concern and interest motivated more by politics than on actual facts and legitimate concerns.

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