TURLOCK -- The city is getting four new police officers.
The Turlock City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved accepting a $1.2 million federal grant that will pay for the officers' salaries over three years. It will be combined with a separate grant that will pay for equipment and training, Police Chief Gary Hampton said.
Hampton earlier proposed accepting the Community Oriented Policing Services grant, which the federal government has approved. But council members were hesitant to take it because it requires the city to keep the officers for a fourth year; Hampton said that would cost the city $452,000.
"We are on a deadline," Hampton said Tuesday. "We do have to have a decision in to the program no later than Friday. We have run out of time."
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Hampton said he had reassurances from the program that if the city doesn't have the money to pay for the fourth year, it can apply to be excused from that provision. Even if the federal government doesn't let that happen, the only penalty Turlock faces is it can't apply for more COPS money during that time.
"We're not the only city struggling with this very situation," he said.
Modesto laid off eight police officers in July but was able to hire them back later in the summer when it received a COPS grant to fund 13 positions.
Hampton cited new programs his department has implemented, such as a street crimes unit and gang prevention efforts, that have enabled police to cut the crime rate by 17 percent in the past 18 months. But he said it can't continue.
"We've done that by robbing Peter to pay Paul, running our patrol teams at minimum staffing levels," Hampton said. "Our response times are impacted, and we're beginning to burn out our staff."
Turlock City Employees Association attorney Bob Phipps told the council that accepting the grant violates the agreement the city has with its unions. Employees agreed to put 5 percent of their salaries toward benefits, with the condition that the city not hire any positions not fully paid for without revisiting the agreement.
Funding concerns union
Because the grant pays for three years and requires the city pick up the tab for the fourth, Phipps said, "These positions are only 75 percent funded."
Councilman Ted Howze testily asked if the union wanted to void the agreement and take 5 percent layoffs instead.
"I don't see it as an option of the unit," Phipps said.
"I see it as an option of the council whether they're going to honor the agreement."
City Attorney Phaedra Norton pointed out that the city's agreement with the union terminates in 2011.
"Positions would be allowed to be added as long as the positions are funded for the term of the ... agreement," she said.
With the COPS grant, the department will go from 81 to 85 sworn personnel.
Also Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a lease agreement with the nonprofit Carnegie Arts Center Foundation to run the center, the victim of a 2005 arson, once it's rebuilt.
The city and the foundation have been negotiating for several months over the contract. The main sticking point has been $600,000 the city wanted the foundation to put toward construction costs. The foundation wanted to keep it for an operating endowment.
As approved Tuesday, the agreement calls for the money to go toward construction if needed, but if the center is rebuilt under its budget, leftover money up to that amount, plus any interest it's earned, will go back to the foundation.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.