The City Council took an in-depth look Monday evening at why Ceres Police Department is projected to burn way beyond its budgeted amount for overtime for the current fiscal year.
"The question is far more complex than the number of proposed solutions," said Acting City Manager/Chief of Police Art deWerk at the outset of a 90-minute special Study Session.
When the City Council crafted its 2013-14 fiscal budget last summer, it allocated $519,287 of the general fund to be spent on police department overtime. At the council meeting of Jan. 13, the council believed that the city was projecting that the overtime budget will be tapped by over $329,677 by June 30.
"That is absolutely not the case," asserted deWerk. At the most, he said, that amount will be no more than $158,942.
Police overtime is triggered by injuries, sick leave, comp time, vacation time, administrative leave, critical incidences, and a shortage of filled positions.
DeWerk said the overtime numbers will not be nearly as bad as projected because assigning sergeants to work 12 hour shifts, officers preparing reports the next day, and not approving comp time off if it results in overtime.
DeWerk reminded the council that the projected shortfall will be offset by mutual aid reimbursements and the savings of salaries for positions which were approved but not yet filled.
As an example of mutual aid reimbursement offsets, deWerk said that the city should expect $25,000 in reimbursements from the state for the costs of Ceres officers being dispatched to provide security during the Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada.
DeWerk suggested that the council not necessarily focus on overtime but on the overall expenditure for salaries. He said at mid-budget year the city spent 48.6 percent of the budget for police salaries and wages.
The chief spent some time talking about staffing levels, noting that Ceres runs a lean operation with 1.14 officers per 1,000 residents. The department is currently short a sergeant and five sworn officers which impacts overtime. On average the city experiences 42 vacant shifts that need to be filled per month.
Durossette asked if the 12-hour sergeant shifts were "safe."
Sgt. Pat Crane suggested that it makes for a tiring situation.
"We can't do it all," commented Sgt. James Yandell.
Outlining several options to minimize overtime, deWerk said the city could opt not to use officers on special assignments, not offering other police agencies assistance unless there is a reimbursement, and expediting the hiring process to fill vacant police officer positions. He also said overtime could be offset by not filling approved positions that are vacant, curtailing training, and reassigning three traffic unit officers into patrol.
He also suggested tapping into Measure H tax funds or using general fund reserves.
Mayor Chris Vierra expressed concern that the council has not done well in accurately budgeting for police overtime.
"We didn't budget correctly for overtime ... but we have to look at it and say we have only so much revenue coming in and so much in reserves," said Mayor Chris Vierra.
DeWerk said that it's rare when the city has been able to meet the overtime target. For example, during the 2012-13 year, the city spent $199,148 more for overtime than was budgeted. However, the city was close to matching costs to the overtime budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year within $17,000.
The chief spent some time boasting about the police department as an efficient organization and reminded the council that overtime use is still below what it was last year. He said the department is at the top of clearing cases and noted that a crime analysis unit has improved the fight against crime. DeWerk said he was "embarrassed" that his claim about an increase in crime due to the early prison release program has not come to pass. He said Ceres has seen a 25 percent decrease in violent crimes but credited the drop to the proactive work of his officers.
DeWerk stated his belief that it would be unwise for the council to break down the special assignments, such as the Street Crimes Unit, to save on overtime expense. However, he asked the council to trust him and his department to decrease the $158,000 overtime overage barring any significant crimes that would increase overtime.
Vierra cautioned deWerk that the city must "wean itself" from using reserves for police overtime "or we are not going to have reserves... the funds are going to run dry."
"Future councils are not going to have that luxury," said Vierra. "We have to find solutions that get us back on track."
Finance Director Sheila Cumberland said that despite the overtime overruns, the city will still end the year with general fund reserves of 24 percent.
Councilman Ken Lane stated: "I'm certainly not willing to go backwards." He complimented the Street Crimes Unit in making a huge dent in crimes in Ceres.
"I trust what you're saying, Art, completely," said Lane.
Councilman Mike Kline said he wants to hold deWerk accountable but asked to give the council monthly updates.
Councilmember Linda Ryno underscored that she is unwilling to reduce police staffing to minimum levels nor disbanding special assignment units. But she said the city must look at other cuts.
"We have to look at something if we don't want to get rid of bodies," said Ryno. "And I think maybe we need to start looking more seriously at training."
She also expressed reluctance to give carte blanch trust to deWerk and staff.
"As far as holding staff accountable and letting staff come up with a plan and then maybe we check with you guys or you check with us in a month or two, that's a concern of mine because why are we even to this point if staff is on top of it?," said Ryno.
"I thought we explained that," replied deWerk, who suggested twice monthly reports of the overtime picture.
"I think I can trust that they'll come back with some recommendations in a timely manner," said Vierra.