Palos Verdes Estates will remain the only town on the Peninsula with its own police force, after the City Council recently voted to keep the agency rather than contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
But concerns remain over the long term, since the department’s main funding source — a temporary parcel tax — does not cover all of the current costs, and rising pension obligations loom.
The move late last week came after an ad hoc committee concluded, following more than a year studying the issue, that maintaining the Police Department is actually cheaper for the city of 14,000 residents than contracting with the county as its three Peninsula neighbors do.
The Police Department’s 2020-21 budget is $6.9 million. Outsourcing to the county, according to a cost analysis the committee performed, would cost from $7.4 million to nearly $11.3 million.
But even with a reduced price tag, the Police Department, which has more than 30 employees, is too expensive for its main funding source.
That source is a parcel tax that brings in about $5 million a year — nearly $2 million short of the department’s cost in this current fiscal year. The money from that parcel tax, which voters OK’d in April 2018, goes entirely to the Police Department, but it is set to end in 2027, according to City Manager Laura Guglielmo.
“Unfortunately, the tax does not fully cover the full cost of services,” Guglielmo said by email Wednesday, “and does not include any escalator to account for cost of living increases in salaries, benefits, supplies or services.”
Guglielmo, in a follow-up email Thursday, said PVE is in a health financial position for the next few years, but rising pension and fire services costs are outpacing revenue — causing some long-term alarm.
“We are making every effort to minimize our operational expenses,” the city manager said, “while still providing high quality services to our residents.”
The council, for example, voted during a Saturday, Jan. 30, meeting to outsource jail operations to the Redondo Beach Police Department. The jail outsourcing would allow the city to eliminate two service officer positions, worth $146,000 total. The RBPD contract will cost approximately $33,000 per year — resulting in a net savings of $113,000. Staffing changes would need to be approved by the council in next fiscal year’s budget.
The ad hoc committee’s members, retired Police Chief Daniel Dreiling and Police Management Consultant Michael McCrary, presented their recommendations at Saturday’s meeting and said keeping the department was the most cost-effective way to give the community a consistent level of service.
The committee recommended what they call a “Lean Model,” which includes, among other possibilities, eliminating some jobs. That model, the committee said, would ultimately cut the budget by $386,000 annually.
“Only way to cut down,” Dreiling said, “is to eliminate salaries.”
Dreiling, who was brought out of retirement last year for a several-month stint as interim police chief when former leader Mark Velez retired in April, said they were “careful not to cut to the bone” when it comes to the budget.
“I think it’s going to be tough,” McCrary added, “but I think it’s going to work.”
The council, however, has not made a decision on that or other recommendations, Guglielmo said Thursday.
But any further cuts to staffing concerns the department’s current acting leader.
The department’s uncertain future has made it difficult to hire and retain officers, who worry about the lack of advancement opportunities, said acting Police Chief Anthony Best, who succeeded Dreiling in November.
Of the 23 sworn positions in the department’s budget, four are currently vacant,” Best said. One of those, however, is the chief position, which is considered vacant until a permanent police chief is appointed, he added.
The committee’s recommendation “represents the least amount of employees needed,” Best said, and leaves the department “extremely thin.”
Under the “Lean Model,” the department would lose one sworn position, which Best said concerns him.
“I can always reduce service levels,” he said, “but one thing I will not do is to gamble with the safety of staff or the community.”
Any changes in police staffing, though, is subject to collective bargaining with the Palos Verdes Police Officers Association. The council has directed Guglielmo to begin those discussions and report back to them, which will occur sometime in March or April, the city manager said.
But even the “Lean Model” won’t solve all of the department’s financial problems — especially with the end of the parcel tax looming large. Once that happens, PVE would either have to go back to the voters again or find another solution.
The size and scale of the PVE Police Department, the committee said, will “continue to be a challenge.”
There is one other potential salve that, the committee said, should be studied in the future: Having a more regional public safety authority that serves all four peninsula cities.
Editor's note: This story has been updated. Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story included the incorrect timing for the Palos Verdes Estates City Council meeting and for the number of years remaining on the city's parcel tax.