For the second time, the Palos Verdes Estates City Council took new recommendations on potential changes to the city’s police department to scale back spending.
In a report, city staff laid out several recommendations that diverged in key places from those proposed by a city-hired contractor in September. The council at times clashed over whether the plan was too far from the consultant’s, but ultimately voted to wait for more information before deciding what cuts to make to the department.
City staff will return to the council with more detailed sets of recommendations — one that outlines changes that can be made to the department to save 5 percent, and another listing options to save 10 percent of the department’s more than $7 million budget.
The city-produced review came weeks after one presented by Michael McCrary of Lewis-McCrary Partners. In his report, McCrary recommended – among other changes – eliminating the city jail and cutting several officers from the department.
City officials commissioned McCrary to complete the top-to-bottom review of the police department after a key parcel tax funding roughly $5 million of the city’s formerly $17 million operating budget failed at the ballot box in March.
Since then, local leaders have scrambled to come up with a balanced budget and have eyed the police department – which makes up the majority of city spending – for cuts.
McCrary’s recommendations would save the city more than $760,000, according to his report, although the city report called into question some of the calculations used to come up with that amount.
City Manager Tony Dahlerbruch, however, said the cuts proposed by McCrary would come with a drop in service levels for residents, and did not include many of those changes in the review developed by city staff that was presented Monday.
“The whole idea of the reductions that were made to the fiscal year budget was to maintain service levels, not reduce staff, and find those things around the edges that could continue the operations as people expect them, and find those reductions that could be made,” Dahlerbruch said.
Among the key differences between the two sets of recommendations was whether or not to eliminate the city’s jail.
In his report, McCrary described the jail as a financial drain without appropriate benefits to justify the cost. Operating the facility costs more than $468,000 a year and eliminating it in favor of contracting with another department for the service could save upward of $312,000, he said.
Shuttering the facility would also mean cutting four officers who handle dispatch and jailing duties, something the Palos Verdes Estates Police Officers Association vehemently opposed.
Capt. Mark Velez, who has been acting Chief of Police for the department since former chief Jeff Kepley retired suddenly following an unexplained, four-month absence, advocated for keeping the jail intact.
The jail offers a tool to officers, Velez said at the meeting, allowing them to immediately question arrestees, and keeps officers in the city, rather than forcing them to spend time ferrying suspects to a jail in another city.
Councilman Sandy Davidson, who was voted into office in the same election that eliminated the parcel tax, criticized the city report for not doing enough to cut from the PVEPD, which makes up 55 percent of city expenditures.
“If we completely take city staff’s recommendations, we are not doing our job,” Davidson said. “We’re not taking money away from our biggest budget issue, which is the police.”
Davidson went on to say if the city doesn’t make significant cuts to spending on the police department, he fears a parcel tax going to voters in 2018 to replace the one that failed this year will not pass because residents will be unwilling to approve the additional tax without an attempt by city leaders to scale back the largest local expense.
“What I fear is that the naysayers in our community (will) say ‘Look, why would we want to give you any more money?’” he said.
Other council members disagreed with Davidson, and cited widespread resident support of the local police department as a reason to avoid many of the cuts recommended by McCrary. Most residents would be willing to fund the new tax to keep the level of service the police department currently operates at, they said.