The first of a series of department-specific budget presentations to the Long Beach City Council focused on the public safety continuum in the city and revealed what those departments intend to do with an influx of revenue from the recently passed Measure A and B initiatives.
In a two hour session, Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) Chief Robert Luna, Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) Chief Mike DuRee and Long Beach Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Communications Director Reggie Harrison revealed what steps they planned to take during the 2017 fiscal year and fielded questions from the council on how that would impact the city outside the districts the additions would take place in.
The police department, claiming allocations that represent nearly half of the city’s $430 million General Fund, will reinstate the South Division with the help of $800,000 in one-time funds for construction in this year’s budget. It was also allocated an additional $2.2 million for overtime costs as the city attempts to mitigate the recent rise in violent crime citywide. Although Measure A is projected to generate $35.6 million this fiscal year, nearly 80 percent of that is being allocated to infrastructure repairs. Still, Luna noted its impact on his department.
“I want to thank the voters for passing Measure A,” Luna said. “This restoration will not only benefit the downtown community but will provide more resources and coverage throughout our entire city.”
The tax increase, one percent for six years and half a percent for the last four years, received support from both the fire and police departments during the campaign to get it voted into action. The crux of the argument was that all revenue generated from Measure A would go directly into making the city safer through infusions of revenue to police and fire as well as improving its infrastructure. The council pledged to spend these funds, expected to rise closer to $40 million in the next fiscal year, on these three areas and will be monitored by an oversight committee that was confirmed during last week's council meeting.
In total, the LBPD will have a net gain of about eight officers and two civilian positions this fiscal year. The number may seem small but it takes into account replacing officers that are currently working who retire, or who leave the force for other reasons, in addition to about 100 new hires. The department’s proposed budget is about $216 million.
Mayor Garcia said the department hadn’t experienced a net gain in officers since 2008. The figure still leaves the department about 190 officers short of its staffing levels prior to the cuts that initiated about a decade ago.
“We have a long way to go before we get there but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Luna said. “This is the first year that we haven’t had to actually cut police officers, so I’m excited.”
The LBPD is not the only group set to benefit immediately from the extra cash provided by the one percent sales tax approved by voters in June. DuRee said the LBFD's Engine 8, located in Belmont Shore, will be operational again thanks to the budget presented last week by Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West.
The LBFD will also conduct two academies simultaneously to be able to fill the currently vacant positions and those projected to open up due to attrition and retirement. DuRee said although Engine 8 is located in Belmont Shore, the city will benefit from having one more resource available to a network of engines already stretched thin by nearly a decade of budget cutbacks.
“Intuitively I can tell you that when you add another piece to the system that it eases the pressure across the systems,” DuRee said. “Based on my over 20 years of experience, the response times will improve citywide with the addition of another resource.”
Those cuts have led to the department falling woefully short of the national standard for response times which stipulates that 90 percent of calls should be responded to within four minutes. Duree said the department averages about six minutes to respond to structure fires, a number that jumps to over six and a half minutes when including fires of all types.
The city’s emergency medical services (EMS) times are 6:23 for EMS response and 6:41 for calls of all types.
Further investment in the department with Measure A funds, as the council has agreed to do, could help cut these times dramatically. DuRee provided a window of how long it would take to see additional dollars turned into more units fighting fires in the city.
“If I were provided the resources to restore any of our resources, I could turn them on tomorrow,” DuRee said.
In his presentation on disaster preparedness, Harrison noted that it’s just the second year that the department has had full funding. He added that the department learned from the summer blackouts of last July in crafting their budget proposals this year.
The department’s budget has grown significantly in the last two years, jumping from about $2.1 million from 2014-2015, to now having a projected budget of about $12 million dollars. Much of that figure (over $10 million) is allocated to emergency communications, like dispatching first responders. Harrison said the department is looking into the possibility that in the future, those communications could include the ability to text instead of calling in an emergency.