San Jacinto Council approves the addition of two POP officers and new license plate reader cameras

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More than a dozen San Jacinto residents in emails strongly asked the city council to add two more sworn police officers to the contracted city police department during the council’s July 21 virtual meeting.

The council was to decide on a proposed general budget adjustment of $786,000 for the hiring of two more sworn police officers from the Riverside County Sheriff Department to improve law enforcement priority calls and major crime response status.

The request for city manager Rob Johnson to find enough money in the 2020-2021 general fund budget to hire the police officers came following council discussion June 30 led by Mayor Andrew Kotyuk. He cited an increase in the department’s priority calls since the COVID-19 crisis began and asked the council to look into hiring more deputies, possibly two community service officers.

Johnson at the Tuesday meeting showed how the money could be found in the budget and provide another $28,000 for a series of license plate reader cameras at the city’s major intersections that would ultimately help the sheriff find more stolen vehicles and investigate other crimes. The leased cameras from Flock Inc. will cost less than similar cameras in patrol cars.

The city’s police chief, Lt. Ken Reichle, said adding two more Problem Oriented Policing deputies would have the biggest effect immediately. The cost would be about $786,000. He said they are assigned only to major crime situations when called, be it homicides or gang activity. He cited the success of the license reader cameras now installed in neighboring cities such as Hemet.

Kotyuk opened up public comment on the request and found more than a dozen voice or email messages from residents supporting the request for more officers in the community to quell the rising crime rate.

“More officers. More officers,” was the common response, he said.

Johnson and Thomas Prill, deputy city manager, identified $592,560 in available funds for reprogramming in the current 2020-2021 budget along with a recent $100,000 CalRecycle grant and possibly more than $600,000 in a state offered Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant for the city’s unexpected COVID-19 costs, which could be more than enough money to pay for the requested additional officers.

The council, with council member Joel Lopez absent that evening, was pleased with the staff report and directed the city manager to increase the sheriff’s department contract by adding two Public Oriented Policing deputies beginning Sept. 1, 2020, for an expenditure not to exceed $655,000 and to adjust the budget accordingly. They asked Johnson and staff to return with a CARES Act funding update Sept. 1 and any subsequent budget adjustments not to exceed the current $1.8 million in expenditure over revenue for the 2020-2021 budget.

Earlier in the evening, the city council heard a report from a FM3 Research firm consultant on a recent survey made of the major issues in the city, as seen by its residents.

The survey was made from approximately 380 voting residents in the city, including their attitude toward approving a requested one-cent general sales tax measure. Resolution 3822 was approved by the council in the agenda’s consent items. FM3 made the following conclusions.

Three-fourths of the residents said they believe the city has a need for funding, with half in total believing that need is great. Initial support for the measure is strong, with two-thirds indicating they would vote “yes.”

Voters who are more concerned about the pandemic are more likely to support the measure, and a majority support it, even when most voters believe the pandemic will still not be under control or the local economy recovered in the next six months.

The voters prioritized funding for protecting local drinking water and maintaining 911 emergency, medical and public safety response rates. Accountability features such as requiring public disclosure of all spending also rank highly.

Messaging about improving fire response times and the measure’s accountability devices resonated most with voters to support the measure.

After hearing both educational messages and critical messages, over six in 10 voters remained in support of the measure – above the required 50% threshold for passage.

The council was generally pleased with survey results, while Mayor Pro Tem Crystal Ruiz and councilmember Alonso Ledezma voiced concern about the low number of voters responding. The FM3 consultant said the number or those surveyed by phone were consistent with other similar surveys in other cities with San Jacinto’s responses being a bit higher. The report was accepted by the council.

Another presentation of a long-term financial forecast and local sales tax analysis by UFI Financial Solutions showed the city was looking at a fairly good financial future so long as the coronavirus is eventually resolved.

UFI suggested in their study the city’s property tax revenue continues to provide a good stable cash stream in the next decade providing the COVID-19 recession isn’t too deep or too long, otherwise it could impact the city negatively. The city’s salaries, benefits and pensions at 20%, particularly salaries, will require “strong fiscal discipline.”

The study did see the city’s long-term debt in the general fund is minimal, only 2.2% of total expenses which improves the city’s financial flexibility and adaptability. The administrative and overhead costs and recovery has aggressively been spread and recovered from other funds and cost centers that will show a net positive for the general fund and ensure updated and compliant community action plans if it continues.

The analysis gave the indication that local sales tax and the proposed 1% sales tax is essential for the city’s future fiscal stability. It will avoid potential insolvency or major cuts. The analysis showed it was simply, “Use it or lose it” or find a more volatile revenue stream like changing the reserve policy. It indicated that even the local sales tax might not be enough to meet long-term solvency or the city’s goals. The council’s priority to improve public safety still will be challenged with the cost inputs controlled by Riverside County. The city’s only control is demand.

UFI suggested that the council develop a good community development strategy and align that with a strong fiscal strategy including bringing in new retail, residential growth and non-retail business growth.

Last, the council appointed Sherry Morton as city clerk on an interim basis. Morton is a retired city clerk under Calpers and can only serve limited hours on an interim basis.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.