Council OKs funding for 2 more cops

The Seal Beach City Council authorized funding for two more sworn officers for the Seal Beach Police Department at the Nov. 13 council meeting. In a four to one vote, the council approved borrowing $358,900 from the city’s $5 million Swimming Pool Designated fund to pay the salaries for the two officers for one year.

The plan calls for repaying the pool fund and finding long-term funding for the two officers, possibly from oil recovery and extraction revenue.

The vote comes as the city is dealing with increased crime, a tight budget, stagnant revenues and a projected timeline for replacing the swimming pool at J.H. McGaugh Elementary of at least five years, according to city staff.

Balancing public safety

and fiscal responsibility

Council members expressed concern about using reserve funding to pay for police officer salaries for one year, but recognized crime as an immediate problem.

Mayor Pro Tem and District Two Councilman Mike Varipapa cast the lone vote against the proposal. Before the vote he expressed support for the police department but said he had reservations about the plan.

“I didn’t want this to be a pool versus a police department issue and that’s kind of where it’s turning into. To me, it’s not about that. It’s about fiscal responsibility, it’s about sustainability.”

He suggested the city should have been securing the oil revenue first as a sustainable source of funding. “It should not be pool versus police, but we have a crime issue right now,” District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said agreeing with Varipapa’s sentiment before voting in favor of the plan.

“Is it a good idea to take money from reserves to pay salaries? No. It’s a horrible idea. Is it a good idea to leave our citizens unsafe and not feeling like they can walk at night? No,” Deaton said and later added, “We’re here to make tough choices.”

Deaton emphasized she’s committed to funding the officers and getting the aquatic facility built and thinks oil recovery revenue will be a solution. “This whole issue with the police department really highlights the stress on the city’s budget and moving towards capturing some of that oil revenue that’s out there is just super important,” Mayor Sandra Massa-Lavitt said.

Public safety concerns

Interim Police Chief Joe Miller spoke of recent changes in state law, a spike in crime and officers’ increasing workload during his address to the council prior to the vote.

Overall, Part 1 crimes, such as assaults and robberies, are up 27.5 percent from last year, Miller said. Officers responded to nearly 30,000 calls for service in 2016 with 33 officers on the force. By comparison, in 1998, there were about 10,650 calls for service and the force had 37 officers, according to Miller.

“I have to give more cops to the community,” Miller said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”

The shot of funding will bring the total number of funded sworn officers to 35. There are currently 30 sworn officers in the department but three more officers are close to being hired, according to Sgt. Mike Henderson.

Councilman Thomas Moore questioned if adding just two officers will make much of an impact. “It is a small increase,” Miller said in response. “But anybody can help at this point.” Chief Miller said he could field the two additional officers and help reduce investigations for detectives. He admitted, while the two officers would fill an immediate need, he’s looking for a long-term solution. Chief Miller is due to present a staffing report to Council in January which will likely ask for additional funding for more officers.

Repayment options focus

on oil revenue recovery

Finance Director Victoria Beatley said revenues for the City have been flat in recent years and characterized the pool fund as the best option to immediately address the community’s public safety needs. “We’ve got this money, it’s in the bank, we can allocate it, we can give [Chief Miller] the ability to hire two officers and that buys us some time to figure out what the options need to be for us pursuing other sources of revenue,” Beatley said in a Nov. 9 interview

The agenda staff report presented at the Nov. 13 meeting stated Beatley’s staff will look for long-term revenue generating options to pay back the pool fund and pay for the officers. The funding options include: new parking meters on Main Street and the Municipal Lot, a ballot measure, becoming a structural fire fund agency, and oil and gas recovery.

Oil recovery was repeatedly discussed as the most promising source of revenue. “If it proves to turn out the way that the consultant is projecting, [oil recovery] will be a significant source of revenue,” Beatley told the council.

In an email, Beatley told the Sun that oil revenue is “money that is owed to the City based upon the Municipal Code. There are three revenue streams that come in from oil, a per barrel tax, annual operating permit, and pipeline franchise. I am not completely informed of the source at this point, as the research is proprietary.”

On Dec. 11, the City Council is poised to consider hiring “a professional to rewrite the municipal code with the intention of recovering gas and oil revenue.”

Councilman Thomas Moore questioned budgeting for the two officers at this point in the fiscal year, an issue also brought up during public comment by resident Robert Goldberg.

Responding to Moore, Beatley said staff wanted to keep funding for these two officers off-cycle and separate so it wouldn’t get lost in the budget. “If our challenge isn’t fixed in a year, we need to have another significant discussion about continuing the funding,” Beatley said.

Status of the pool project

Part of the argument Beatley presented for using the pool fund money now is that the project is years away from being completed. In Fiscal Year 2008-09, the City Council set aside $5 million dollars to pay for a new aquatic facility to replace the aging community pool built at McGaugh Elementary in 1964.

Around $200,000 from the pool fund has been used to pay for two studies putting the fund’s current total around $4.8 million, according to Beatley.

The city is continuing to work with the Navy and the Los Alamitos Unified School District on the project but estimated completion at either location isn’t expected until 2022-2023.