City Council seeks answers on police, fire costs

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The City is required by current contract language to notify the County by June 30, 2015, if there is a desire to cancel the current Riverside Sheriff’s Department contract, or the current contract will automatically renew for another five years.

The City of Canyon Lake’s current five-year contract with the Riverside Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services is due to expire on June 30, 2016. The City is required by current contract language to notify the County by June 30, 2015, if there is a desire to cancel the current contract, or the current contract will automatically renew for another five years. Costs for law enforcement services are projected to rise 12 percent during that five-year period.

In early March, the City of Canyon Lake contracted with police consultant Tom Hicks to research what it would take for Canyon Lake to have its own police department. He was paid a flat fee of $5,000 to review current and past contracts for police services, analyze future costs of police services, and prepare a budget for the start-up costs and operational costs for the City to have its own police department.

Mr. Hicks presented his final report to a full audience on April 22 in the City Multi-purpose Room. Acting City Manager Ariel Hall had asked Riverside Sheriff’s Captain Mike Judge to review the report prior to the meeting, so he also was on hand to read a letter he prepared in response to the report. Captain Judge did raise several concerns.

It originally was anticipated there would be another presentation of this report following the Public Safety Committee meeting on May 5; however, that meeting will not take place.

Residents can obtain copies of Mr. Hicks’ 44-page report and Captain Judge’s letter at City Hall. A copy of the Hicks report also can be read at www.cityofcanyonlake.com.

The City’s Administration and Finance Committee, consisting of Tim Brown and John Zaitz, held a special meeting on Tuesday this week to discuss the report and allow citizens to comment and ask questions.

According to Mr. Hicks’ report, the average increase in the “hourly rate” for a contract Deputy Sheriff over the past 15 years has been approximately five percent. His five-year projection, based upon the average increase for one Sheriff Deputy, plus operation and maintenance costs and projected over time, will rise from $1,539,398 in 2016-17 to $1,865,760 in 2020-21. Captain Judge questioned the accuracy of those figures.

Because the Canyon Lake Property Owners Association has a contract for security services, with current annual costs listed in the report as approximately $2,125,000, the report explains how a partnership for a private police department between the CLPOA and City of Canyon Lake would save the POA approximately $1,170,000 annually.

The report listed the “Base Starting Hourly Wage” for law enforcement positions in neighboring cities and provided a suggested base rate that would be just above average.

The Administration and Finance Committee (Tim Brown and John Zaitz) met Tuesday morning to discuss the report, and listen to questions and comments from about five members of the public who attended the meeting. With the goal of coming up with a recommendation for City Council, Tim and John agreed they need to see the City’s upcoming budget in order to proceed.

Acting City Manager Ariel Hall says the committee will have access to the preliminary budget when it next meets on May 5, at 8 a.m. at City Hall.

At the meeting John indicated he is not as concerned about looking at each line item in the report as he is in seeing how the startup cost will affect the City’s general fund. Even assuming the startup cost is accurate and the line items work out, can the City afford the startup costs, he questioned.

Later, he told The Friday Flyer, “Even with the UUT (Utility User Tax), we do not have the funds to support the startup costs. It is a great idea, but the Council has waited so long to do anything except bounce from one tax to another – they wasted too much time and funds.”

Tim says he knows citizens aren’t happy about current police services, and he is very interested in the concept of the City having its own police department. However he has some questions about the report, the answers for which could “blow the whole idea out of the water.”

One of his concerns is that the PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System) costs mentioned in the report aren’t realistic, given the PERS cost increases California is proposing this year. Another concern is the proposed salary levels for police officers coming to work for the private department and whether the starting level suggested in the report is do-able. Those two issues need more examination, he says.

He notes, “We have to get our budget picture before we can pursue this further other than conceptually. My recommendation, if this goes to Council, is that we continue exploring. If we have to renew the contract with the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, make sure it’s not a five-year lock-in. We don’t have time to sort out the financial questions (brought up by the report) at this time, but I’d like to continue the study.”

As Mr. Hicks points out, there are time sensitive requirements to establish a police department if the City does not want to renew its five-year contract with the Riverside Sheriffs.

“The necessary planning for new personnel, organizing the new department, staffing the new department, coordinating activities for the new department, preparing reports and working within the proposed budget must start no later than July 1, 2015,” he says.

As if these time and budget pressures weren’t enough, the City is still dealing with its lawsuit against Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire and a pending deadline for renewing the contract for fire services as well.

Look for further reports on these issues at the City Council meeting next Wednesday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chamber.

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Sharon Rice