Public safety will be the main topic of the Merced City Council’s study session on Monday, when they will discuss priorities for the budget in the coming fiscal year.
The special meeting on budget and setting priorities is at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.
For months now, in preparation for the session, the council has been asking for reports on what it will cost to add police officers and firefighters, a gunshot detection device, street lighting and new programs. But it can’t have everything.
So the study sessions are meant to help the council and the public better understand where best to spend discretionary funds.
The meeting is supposed to inform the council on the cost to hire from one to three police officers in each of the next five years. It is also set to look at the cost of ideas to end brownouts, a policy used by the Merced City Fire Department that leaves an engine unstaffed rather than pay overtime.
During a meeting last week with council, police Chief Norm Andrade noted his department has a budget for 88 officers – though a few of those spots are empty – for a city with a population of 81,100. He contrasted that with the number of officers in 1990, which was 71 for the then-population of 55,600.
The number of officers peaked in 2007 at 111, but budget shortfalls in the city led to layoffs.
The Fire Department is also working with a smaller staff.
The city has five fire engines and a firetruck, which carries specialty tools and equipment. A brownout occurs when three firefighters are sick or out from work for any reason, Chief Shawn Henry said this month.
Rather than spend overtime dollars to pay other firefighters to cover the shift for those who are out, the department leaves one engine at the 16th Street station unstaffed.
City staff will look at the best way to end brownouts, whether that means hiring more firefighters, paying more overtime or a combination of both. Fire officials and city staff have agreed that hiring more firefighters is the best way to end brownouts, but it is also the most expensive option.
The cost of buying a device that detects gunfire, as well as adding lights in alleys throughout the city, could also be part of the discussion.
In the first session this year, the council talked about economic growth, homeless issues and deteriorated sidewalks, among other concerns it might decide to focus on in the next fiscal year.
The meeting will be streamed live on the Internet, and a link to stream is at www.cityofmerced.org. Unlike regular meetings, this meeting will not be available on Comcast’s Government Channel 96.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.