Downtown Councilman Terry Maxwell’s call to add 100 Bakersfield Police Department officers over five years is fiscally unfeasible and could lead to “widespread” city layoffs and cuts to fire and parks services, according to a City Hall analysis.
Maxwell ran for the Bakersfield City Council in 2012 in part as a critic of the 24th Street widening, one of Bakersfield’s major transportation projects in his sprawling Ward 2.
But support for public safety is a main plank of his November re-election campaign for a second four-year term — including adding 100 officers, which would cost the city $2.6 million to $2.8 million annually and more than $40 million over five years.
This would be just for the new officers, Assistant City Manager Chris Huot wrote in a memo to City Manager Alan Tandy. City staffers also recommend hiring 46 to 52 new city staffers to hire, train and equip them, at an additional cost of $6.8 million to $8.5 million a year — ranging from 17 to 20 police sergeants to one human resources clerk.
In good times, any additional newly earned city revenue that remained after Bakersfield met its existing obligations would have to be spent to pay for the 100 officers, Huot wrote, noting the oil industry’s downturn has hit Bakersfield’s sales tax revenue — its largest general fund revenue source — hard.
The city’s new budget, adopted in late June, cut general fund appropriations by $4.1 million, eliminated 14 vacant positions and forecast zero percent sales tax growth.
In rough economic times, Huot said, Bakersfield might have to lay off staffers and cut other core general fund services like fire protection and recreation and parks programs to pay for the additional officers.
These could include a 20 percent reduction in the streets division to save an estimated $1.6 million; cutting three firefighters per shift to save $1.3 million — the equivalent of closing a fire station; and eliminating the aquatics program to save $1.2 million.
Even the nine city spray parks, which reopened in June after a nearly two-year closure due to the drought, might have to be closed again, which would save an estimated $100,000.
Maxwell, who got the memo in answer to a referral, said he wasn’t satisfied with this response or with an earlier one last year.
The councilman said staffers still need to come up with innovative ways to make Bakersfield safer because he increasingly hears from Ward 2 residents that crime is a huge problem. He’s contemplating a second follow-up referral on the matter.
“I was disappointed because the premise was all started with ‘This isn’t possible.’ I expected them to come through with a lot more out-of-the box ideas on how this was possible,” Maxwell said.
Huot said the city manager’s office has done its best to research the issue.
“I think we’ve tried to provide a comprehensive picture given the information that we have and given discussions with the police department,” Huot said.
Maxwell said he believes the issue comes down to a question of whether Bakersfield funds the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which includes widening 24th and the Centennial Corridor freeway connection between Highway 58 and the Westside Parkway, or hires more police to cut down on crime.
“The question is, if you add 100 police, what do you have to give up?” he added.
Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, who represents the southeast, agreed Bakersfield doesn’t have enough police and should make hiring more of a priority.
“We do have money. It is an issue of prioritizing the things important to Bakersfield,” Rivera said.
Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, who represents the northwest, said he doesn’t know how the city would fund Maxwell’s idea.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, who represents part of the southwest, said all the council members support hiring more police officers, but officials need to use “good fiscal judgment” during times of belt-tightening.
One way to save money, Maxwell said, could be contracting out some recreation and parks services, citing city statistics showing the acres of park land maintained per employee have risen from just more than 12 in the 2012-2013 fiscal year to more than 14 today.
Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover said her department will research the idea if that’s what elected officials decide.
“The whole thing with the parks comes down to the overall quality of life that the City Council wants,” Hoover said.
Anthony Galagaza, president of Bakersfield Professional Firefighters Local 246, the firefighters union, said the Bakersfield Fire Department, which fields around 167 firefighters, has lost at least nine positions since the recession and can ill afford more cuts.
BPD Officer Ramon Chavez, president of the Bakersfield Police Officers Association, the police union, said officers aren’t necessarily opposed to increasing their ranks beyond the full complement of 404 — the largest in department history — but would like raises of their own some day.
Recognizing the city’s economic straits, BPOA members agreed to forego a raise in their current contract, which ended June 30.
Chavez said Maxwell met with BPOA members, but the union has endorsed neither the incumbent nor his opponent, Bakersfield City School District Trustee Andrae Gonzales.
Gonzales said he, too, supports public safety, but if elected would call for an exploration of using federal grants to put additional officers in targeted areas.
“Especially as we get closer to the campaign season we hear a lot of lofty ideas, but the question is how are we going to pay for them?” said Gonzales, who is CEO of Stewards Inc., a nonprofit that helps manage the finances of people who are on disability or in retirement.