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Bakersfield City Council to consider passage of budget capping off hiring spree brought on by Measure N

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Bakersfield City Hall North.

Every year, the Bakersfield City Council passes a new budget, setting its spending priorities for the next 12 months. This year, a better-than-expected rebound from the coronavirus pandemic and the Public Safety Vital Services Measure allows the city to expand services in a number of areas, including in homelessness and street maintenance.

For the first time since city voters approved the 1 percent sales tax increase known as Measure N, the city will fund 100 additional officer positions as long as the council passes the budget on Wednesday.

“This budget definitely is investing in the priorities that I have heard from the community and from the City Council, at least around addressing homelessness, and at least around addressing public safety,” said Bakersfield City Manager Christian Clegg. “There’s a lot of desire to see things improve and be better for the city. We have to have the capacity to do so and this budget continues to do so.”

The roughly $683 million budget is bolstered by $77.9 million in PSVS funds. A total of 42 percent of the general fund will be dedicated toward the Bakersfield Police Department, the largest allocation of all city departments by more than half.

In fiscal year 2021-22, BPD is slated to add 28 new sworn officer positions and 17 new civilian positions. The department hopes to use the new officers to respond to a wider variety of calls in person and reduce response times.

But the department has become caught up in calls to reduce its budget following the killing of George Floyd last year. A group involving more than 500 people has come up with an alternative budget it says better reflects the interest of local residents. The People’s Budget Bako would divert funding from the police and other departments to areas such as mental health services and violence prevention.

“The police don’t do anything. They are not preventative. They come after crime is committed,” said Daulton Jones, co-founder of People’s Budget. “Therefore, why are we giving the people after the crime happens the majority of the money and none of the before people?”

In response to calls to defund, some Bakersfield residents emailed a form letter to the city urging officials to pass an increased BPD budget. Many of the individuals appeared to be connected to local realty and property businesses, according to their email signature.

“As many businesses begin to reinhabit their offices, the worry over the rise in homelessness is of great concern,” the letter reads. “In addition, businesses need to feel safe to return back to work. Although there are efforts to ‘defund the police,’ the business community stands behind the city’s efforts to improve public safety responsibly and equitably.”

Although it will receive a significant portion of the funding, BPD is not the only city department to see increases in the budget. The city plans to dedicate $6 million to affordable housing and add six new positions to the Recreation and Parks Department to help keep the city’s streetscapes clean.

In addition, the city plans on allocating $1.9 million to fund 11 positions focused on keeping the Kern River Parkway clean.

“We don’t see us getting back to where we were pre-pandemic, but we’re feeling very positive about the trends and our ability to leverage these resources to do good stuff,” Clegg said, referencing the dip in revenue the city projected due COVID-19, which has not been as severe as anticipated.

The budget represents the conclusion of the city’s three-year plan to increase staffing following the passage of Measure N. At the end of this year, most of the positions made possible by Measure N should be in place.

It remains to be seen whether the city will be able to hire a net gain of 100 officers by the end of next fiscal year. Retirements and transfers have challenged the city’s hiring goals. So far, the city has experienced a net gain of 46 officers, 26 of whom are still in the academy.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.