Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 3:42 pm | Fair 85º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Police, Fire Chiefs Tackle Budget Cuts

Department leaders tell the City Council how they plan to trim a combined $2.5 million

Shortly after receiving awards for their crucial roles in battling the Jesusita Fire, the Santa Barbara police and fire departments faced the daunting task Tuesday night of explaining a combined $2.5 million in budget cuts to the City Council.

All city departments have been under fire to trim expenses, and the fire and police departments have been asked to cut 4.7 percent, while other city departments have cut more than twice that amount.

Of the two, the police department faces the deepest cuts, totaling $1.6 million, and Police Chief Cam Sanchez laid out how the department would contribute toward closing the city’s $7.4 million shortfall. “It is difficult to do more with less, and I think you’ll see that today,” he said.

With 206 employees, about 85 percent of police expenditures go toward salaries and benefits, making layoffs inevitable. The department will eliminate one vacant position, lay off employees in two positions and, with three retirements in the pipeline, will convert two of those positions. There are 140 sworn-in personnel, and that number will remain, but several upper-level positions will be downgraded to entry level.

The department also will work to increase revenue. Increasing vehicle release fees when a vehicle is towed, for example, would help add much-needed revenue.

Deputy Chief Frank Mannix said the department also has secured about $2 million in grants.

He said a network technician who was going to be laid off has been offered a job in a different city department. An animal control officer also was slated to be cut, but Mannix believes that the department has found funding for the officer, he said to applause from the audience.

Other positions expected to be cut are school crossing guards, about half of which are funded by the city. School districts fund the rest. Mannix said school districts are discussing training volunteers, which would save the department $112,000.

If more cuts are required from the state level, also eliminated would be three officers, a crime analyst, a records specialist, and an animal control officer and vehicle.

Article Image
“It is difficult to do more with less, and I think you’ll see that today,” Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez told the City Council on Tuesday night. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Police Capt. Alex Altavilla said response times for high- and low-priority calls are on target and would not be affected in 2010.

The city’s fire department also is being asked to cut 4.7 percent of its costs, or about $908,000. The department has 113 employees, and 28 firefighters are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, said Andrew DiMizio, the city’s interim fire chief.

Reducing overtime, hourly employee hours and positions through attrition are all part of the strategies to reduce costs. The department sold an extra vehicle that wasn’t being staffed, and will reduce training for emergency services and administration.

Another pending cut is an office specialist position, which would force people to work through the phone tree when calling, and the department’s Web site wouldn’t be updated as frequently. A public education coordinator also would be lost, but possibly could be funded by grants from the Orfalea Foundation.

Savings also will result from interim positions and leaving vacant a training captain position.

Eliminating two relief captain positions and three relief engineers as those become vacant also is among the savings measures. They department also maintains a vacancy for a relief captain position.

If further cuts from funding occur on a state level, DiMizio said, “browning out” a fire station for 72 days could be required. “We certainly hope we don’t have to go there,” he said.

Peter Ramsdell, fire administrative services manager, said people can expect to see a steady increase in emergency calls. Emergency services expects to respond to 7,500 calls in 2009, compared with 6,900 in 2004.

“Our part of the challenge is maintaining the current level of service,” he said.

The council will begin deliberations on the budget when it reviews the cuts on Tuesday. It hopes to adopt a budget at its meeting June 23.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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