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Police overtime called into question by council
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Concerns about police department overtime expenses having burned through 70 percent of its budget as of November had the Ceres City Council raising a red flag on Monday.

Newly installed Councilmember Linda Ryno said she was alarmed that the department is headed toward over-tapping its overtime budget to the tune of $350,000 by the end of the fiscal year. She also asked what steps are being taken to "reel that in," citing how the fire department has taken steps to do so.

Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges noted that efforts are being taken to limit overtime costs for patrol officers but acknowledged that there are limitations due to the loss of personnel to vacations, training or injuries, and officers pulled from patrol for special assignments. Borges said he could dissolve specialized assignments, and take some detectives and Street Crimes Unit personnel and place them back on patrol but noted those actions "carry consequences."

He explained that backfilling of shifts occurs in only patrol division personnel.

Currently there are three vacancies that affect patrol staff. The department is authorized to staff 22 patrol officers and six patrol sergeants but is down to 21 and five respectively. On top of that, another officer was lost to an injury "who, at this point, may or may not return in two weeks."

The city also is limited in its ability to use reserve officers because of health care cost issues.

Borges reminded the council that the Ceres Police Department started out the fiscal year with a pared-down police overtime budget. He said his department has $455,000 to spend in overtime for the 2013-14 fiscal year with the historic use "closer to $600,000."

"Our efforts are there," said Borges, "but it's either cannibalize our specialized assignments which carry consequences with it or utilize overtime."

He said some overtime costs may be reduced by using salary savings from vacant positions, grant funds or Measure H funds generated by the half-cent sales tax.

"I certainly don't want to see any loss of patrol before any special units," commented Ryno.

Mayor Chris Vierra said the city "cannot continue down this same path." "That's a significant issue for us that I think we need to discuss as a council." Vierra then asked for a study session to have Borges to come back with options to curtail the "significant" expenditure.

Borges said matters will be helped with the filling of one of the patrol vacancies "and we're in the process of trying to hire."

Acting City Manager Art deWerk, who was not present at the meeting, said: "The figure ($350K) ... is quite a bit higher than the actual projection. The projection also does not take into account the steps we are taking, along with reimbursements (for example, the RIM fire costs) that we will be receiving."