Noralea Gipner: Community help needed with police funding issue

| April 4, 2018 | 5 Comments

By NORALEA GIPNER
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

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Category: Opinion