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Police, fire costs taking more of Lodi’s budget

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Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 12:00 am

The increasing cost of public safety personnel and less money in Lodi’s general fund due to less tax revenue means the city is on its way to only paying for police and fire services out of the general fund. Every other department will have to find a way to pay for itself, City Manager Rad Bartlam confirmed, while public safety looks for more ways to cut costs.

“Some cities have public safety as over 80 percent of their budget. There comes a point when the entire general fund funds police and fire,” Bartlam said at a Tuesday morning city council study session on this year’s budget.

City staff have done their best to move other costs out of the general fund and keep other departments lean, Bartlam said. But the lack of special revenues, including sales and property tax money, has hurt the city’s bottom line.

“We need to find creative ways to increase revenue for the city,” he said. “But we will continue to find places to reduce cost.”

The police department saw a rise of $338,200 in funding from last year’s amended budget. That included $160,000 in supplies, and $160,000 in debt service on the police building, plus other costs. The department employs 72 sworn officers. Five positions, including two officers, are unfunded and sit empty.

Councilman Larry Hansen was upset to learn the police force has six fewer officers than when he was chief.

“I recognize I’m a little biased, but the number of officers on patrol has to be our first priority,” he said.

Four of the current officers are paid for through a federal grant that runs out at the end of the year, but the rules of the grant mean the city must keep them on for at least one more year.

There is more funding in the reserve right now than usual, including $1 million from San Joaquin County for incorrectly assessed property tax administration fees. But Bartlam does not want to use that money for payroll.

“Staffing is an ongoing cost. I want to know the funding stream is ongoing, too,” he said.

The police force has had to reduce their training budget to make ends meet. Instead of $135,000 earmarked for training five years ago, Police Chief Mark Helms said they only have $30,000 this year.

“That’s only enough to send officers to required training,” he said. “This is such a critical job, such a demanding job, that we must be fully trained.”

Helms said advancements in technology have made his force more effective, but the key is having the money to buy that new technology and gadgetry. During the coming months, a management team will take a look at the department to find ways to make it more efficient.

The Lodi Fire Department’s budget has increased by $55,400 for this year. That includes a $28,000 increase to salaries and benefits, and $26,000 increase in services and supplies.

They employ 52 people, and have four unfunded positions. Two are due to retirement, and two are through agreement with the firefighters’ union.

The money to rebuild Fire Station 2, which has a pest and mold problem, is coming from the city’s Capital Outlay fund, which is connected to the general fund and amounts to $1,073,000.

By June 1, the firefighters will be out of the decaying station and into temporary housing, Fire Chief Larry Rooney confirmed. The city is running electrical and sewers lines, along with computer setups. for the temporary space.

More construction is going on for fire departments in Lodi. Mold has been found in Fire Station 4, confirmed city engineer Charlie Swimley, but the problem is being addressed. Fire Station 3 will see $130,000 in repairs to the exterior, the generator, sidewalks and asphalt this year. It is not yet clear when the cost of public safety will take up the full general fund.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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